My brother Ben and I have personalities that are 95% completely different.
I follow the rules, while Ben is more – um – flexible. I got straight A’s throughout school, while Ben got – um – not straight A’s. I played sports, while Ben rocked the trumpet. I’m not a risk taker. Ben has always pushed it (I’ve always admired that about him).
Then, there is that 5%. That small percentage is where I feel the closest to my brother Ben. I know so many people, and have many great friends. However, none of them have that five percent that I share with my brother.
The two things that my brother and I have in common are: 1) an incredibly sarcastic sense of humor and 2) an acceptance for the decisions that other people make. The former, we got from our father. The latter, Ben taught me.
I cannot think of a serious rule I broke until I drank underage in college. When we were younger, Ben found a clever way to drink an entire bottle of brandy my dad had (I think it was the only bottle of alcohol my parents had in the house while I was growing up). Ben would have a drink or two from the bottle every week or so. Then, he would replace what he drank with died water. By the end, the contents of the bottle were entirely comprised of water.
When Ben was in eighth grade there was a video game he wanted for Christmas. That year, my parents purchased all the Christmas presents early, wrapped them, and hid them somewhere in their bedroom. A few weeks before Christmas Ben went through my parent’s room and found the video game. Every day, Ben would find the game, carefully unwrap it, play it at night while we were sleeping, and then re-wrap it before anyone found out. Before my brother got the game on Christmas day, he had already conquered it.
At the end of my freshman year and at the end of Ben’s senior year – we came to a head.
In high school, my brother started failing several classes. Ben has an IQ over 150. He got into Mensa when he was in 8th grade, and scored a 30 on the ACTs before he got into high school. Ben never failed because he lacked ability – he failed out of choice.
Meanwhile, in my entire life, I’ve gotten 4 letter grades that were not As.
Knowing he was failing at high school I cut Ben down and told him he was stupid, dumb, an idiot, and a complete failure. Yeah, I know, really nice sister move.
Neither Ben nor I have ever been ones to mince words (we value honesty over tact). Ben stopped in his tracks and said flatly, “You know why I fail? I fail because I don’t give a fuck about what everyone thinks of me. You know why you do well? You do well because you care too much.” He was right.
The moment Ben told me I cared too much, I realized how completely different we were. In that moment, Ben taught me that sometimes the decisions that others make are neither right nor wrong. Sometimes, the ‘wrong’ decision, is simply one we would not make for ourselves (for the record here, I am not trying to excuse unhealthy behaviors).
Ben is never going to follow the rules, do what people tell him to do, or try to get straight A’s. He does not care. It is not in his nature.
Meanwhile, I’m probably going to draw inside the lines, cross every T, and dot every I. It is just who I am.
When you follow the rules, and you are confronted with someone that breaks the rules – you only have two options: 1) continually judge the person and tell them they are wrong or 2) accept that we all break someone’s rule/s, and just move on.
I’m a Christian. I think the most annoying thing I encounter in Christian culture is conversation about what ‘To do.’
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in groups where folks talk about all the things they are doing correctly, while also discussing all of the things everyone else is doing incorrectly.
I understand the purpose of these conversations, and I would be lying if I said I’ve never participated. The purpose of the ‘to do’ conversation is to help groups reinforce norms and mores and feel a sense of cohesion about shared beliefs.
But I’ve never understood how the person talking about what EVERYONE else is doing wrong can’t point the finger around.
I have SO many annoying habits and personality traits. I’m controlling, I have anger issues, I talk over my husband in conversation, I never put my shoes away, I exhale loudly 300 times a day at work, I crack my neck, I bite my fingernails. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know God loves me. But come on, I can be SUPER annoying.
I guess I could’ve spent years focusing on what my brother is doing ‘wrong.’
The thing is, in Ben’s mind – he isn’t doing anything wrong. He has a creative personality, so in his mind he is flexing rules; not breaking them. Notions of shared rationality are idiotic.
The world is not black and white. The world is gray and swirly. There are not universal rules that every single person follows. Some Christians drink, others don’t. I’ve never met two people that have the exact same beliefs, or the same personalities.
When we spend so much time focusing on other people’s shit, we do two very terrible things: 1) We miss the chance to improve ourselves and 2) We miss the chance to love another person.
Rather than spending years trying to change my brother, I just accept him. My brother is so different from me, but I love him. He is a great father, he is by far the most intelligent person I know, and I appreciate his creative nature. Ben, if you’re reading this, I think you’re fucking awesome dude. I’ve always thought you were great.
Instead of spending years of energy on trying to fix my brother, I hope I’ve – instead – focused that energy on fixing myself. And thinking that my brother somehow needs to be fixed, is denying my own brokenness. I cannot control what my brother does. I can only control what I do. In a few years time, I hope I’ve become kinder, listened more and talked less, practiced some tact, stopped exhaling so much, and learned to let go.
Because what we never really know is… who thinks we are the ones in the wrong? Who is talking shit about what you’re doing wrong? Who thinks you are broken? Trust me, there is someone thinking it. Someone out there thinks you are wrong, you are an ass, and that you need fixing. And you know what, they are probably right.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of another person’s judgment? I have. It’s terrible. Right after I got divorced, one of my best friends told me that she could no longer be my friend – because I was getting divorced. She said, “If you choose divorce, I can no longer be friends with you.” The irony was that she herself was divorced. Yeah, I know. I still don’t get it. Losing that friendship was an important lesson for me. I never want to be in a place where I am passing judgment on everyone else, while completing missing my own brokenness.
So let’s just all do each other a favor, and get the heck over ourselves. Let’s focus more energy on thinking of what we can do to improve ourselves, and spend less time focusing on what we think everyone else needs to do.
If you feel like you can’t do it, just let me know. I’ve got this amazing sarcastic brother I can send to straighten you out.