Stand by loved ones, even when they make mistakes

My younger brother is 34. All his life he’s been a romantic idiot. He is always crazy about some woman. Six months after his divorce, now he tells me he has met somebody new. And he has really jumped in with both feet. They are practically living together. I’ve told him he is moving too fast. I think he is making a mistake. He wants me to meet this woman, but I don’t want to support yet another drama in my brother’s life. I’m not happy about his choices. But he’s just not listening to me. And now he’s avoiding me.

— T.P., Nashville, Tenn.

Oh, he’s listening to you all right, T.P. What you mean is, your brother isn’t heeding your advice. He’s not living the way you think he ought to be living. Because, as you say, he’s an idiot. And idiots, by definition, aren’t as enlightened as us. That’s why they need us to indignantly insist they live the way that we are certain is right for them.

But, sadly, another part of being an idiot is that idiots aren’t smart enough to follow the advice of enlightened people. Can you believe the audacity of some folks! Daring to follow their own paths, make their own mistakes, when enlightened people like you and me have shown them exactly what’s best for them!

Well, guess there’s not much you can do when your brother turns his back on your wisdom and love and lives his life on his own terms. Except be offended.

Yes, that’s it. Subtly punish him. Refuse to meet the new girlfriend. Set your jaw. Roll your eyes. Scold him. Pout. Say sharp, critical, incredulous things, punctuated by exasperated breath. Predict his dire future so that, when that future comes, you can at least have the satisfaction of saying "I told you so."

Make it all about you, T.P. That’ll show him.

Uh, T.P., you might have noticed a slight thread of acerbic irony thus far in this column. So, let me unpack the irony, and say it straight out: I "get" why your brother is avoiding you. I’d avoid you, too.

Years ago, I raised an orphaned niece from age 14 until adulthood. At 19, she announced that she was marrying her boyfriend of maybe six months.

I wanted to throw up. Pull my hair out. I was so disappointed. What, is she crazy! This marriage is like entering a hippo in the Kentucky Derby.

And then I remembered that I loved her. And because I loved her, I wanted to respect her. So, in service to respect, I remembered that I am not her. That her life isn’t about me. That respecting her means affording her the right to have her own victories, and to make her own mistakes. Including glorious, ridiculous, easily avoidable mistakes. Loving people begins by remembering we don’t know one damn thing about their path or destiny.

And that, especially if this was the mistake I believed it to be, that I would want to do everything in my power to make sure that I was counted amongst her champions.

So I collected myself. Sat her down. Said: "I’m only going to say this once. I’m very worried and concerned for you. You’re young. You have neither real earning power nor an education. Same for your boyfriend. Why the hurry? You have choices. Honey, you are making a choice where the deck is desperately stacked against you."

She said she’d think about it. And then she got married anyway.

I gave her away in the ceremony. Having spoken my piece, I got behind her decision completely. Living, talking and acting in ways that celebrated, supported and resourced this new marriage.

It lasted eight months. And I held her as she wept.

And she lamented, "Why didn’t I listen to you, Uncle Steven!"

And I said: "Because sometimes we learn about skydiving by reading a good textbook. Other times, we just prefer to learn by jumping out of the airplane."

Then I told her a few stories about my reckless airplane jumps. And the splat noise I made when I hit the ground.

And, then, right after the "splat" part of the airplane stories, I also told my niece a few stories of airplane jumps where, to everyone’s surprise including mine, I learned how to fly.

T.P., your "love" for your brother has become distorted into your personal umbrage. You can do better.

Originally published in View News, May 11, 2010.

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