Four things I learned from having three brothers.
Part three of four: Who’s the more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?
Written while listening to 25 Blarney Roses by Fiddler’s Green.
Now, if you ask me whether I care about anyone else’s opinion of me, I will, by default, SAY, “Psh, naw. What you think I am? Some kind of pop tart?”
But what I will THINK is, well, that depends, doesn’t it? Because it’s only by measuring ourselves against the judgment of our peers that we can make practicable value judgments about the course of action we have, thus far, elected to follow. And by consideration of those judgments to either stay on course with how we have so far behaved or to adjust our behavior to better represent to the world the face that we strive to project. Surely, I think but do not say, everyone indulges in a similar recursive contemplation in order to choose to make such obscure decisions as to insist on wearing that hat today, even though they have been told more than once that it hardly sets off their complexion to advantage.
As it turns out, not everyone does need to think that many things before choosing which nerdy tee shirt to wear today.
As it turns out, some people just…you know, do things. They don’t spend half their time in public wondering what other people think and the other half of their time carefully editing everything about themselves in order to “behave like themselves.”
As it turns out, some people just check in with themselves. They look at that red-and-black checked cloth cap that would have made Kurt Cobain salivate, then ask themselves, “Do I like it?” And answer themselves, “Yeah, well enough.” And they wear it out, without once worrying about the potential sneers from, I don’t know, style-conscious hobos, or something.
Not that, you know, I know anyone who thinks too much. I’ve heard stories, though.
My brother two brothers down is a smart kid. He’s the brother that I sometimes feel most similar to, because my next brother down from me — I called him Sharp a few days ago — is, in a good way, highly external and, in a comforting way and for want of a better word, “shallow.”
By “shallow” I mean that he doesn’t need to ask why the Confucian philosophy advises being firm and supple as the river, so long as he can remind himself of it whenever he needs to make a tough managerial decision.
Which is all about Sharp. Sharp’s management material. He’s clean-cut and user friendly and good at making certain decisions.
Dissimilar to me, is what I mean.
My next brother down always reminded me more of myself. I’d watch him operate, and I could tell that he not only reminded himself to be firm and supple as the river, he also considered the metaphorical implications of using a river rather than, say, a sausage-grinder.
I’ll call that brother Grunge, although he wouldn’t appreciate that, so don’t tell him. It goes me, Sharp, Grunge.
But Grunge makes sense as something to call him. He looks like he walked out of Aberdeen in the ’90s, if Aberdeen in the ’90s was also London in the ’70s. He looks like the frayed-edged spawn of garage sales and your grandmum’s closet. Then, when you talk to him, he’s go this encyclopedic knowledge of music you never heard of. He could be making up the bands he references for all the difference it makes to the conversation. When he wanted to get into science fiction, he said, “You know what? Let’s start with Clarke. Why not?” And, at thirteen, he said to my dad, “You know, baseball’s okay — I’m enjoying it — but can I go do theatre instead?”
For years, I figured that, of my brothers, I had the most in common with Grunge. We both veered toward thinking too much and being preoccupied with our own internal working.
And also I watched him make decisions that reminded me of myself when I was younger. And because they looked similar on the outside, and yielded a similar and gratifying success rate, I thought to myself that they must, therefore, come from a similar place.
Which comforted me. I figured that here was a kid who dealt with the same perpetual “concerned about the opinion of other people” anxiety that I dealt with. Which comforted me, because I felt gladdened to know that someone else had a similar kind of thing happening. I think we all feel comforted to feel like there are people out there who share our experiences.
It turns out that, even though Grunge reminds me of me at his age, he’s not like me.
I double-back on myself constantly and sabotage my own powers for assertive decision-making.
As it turns out, Grunge is the other sort. We had a reason to discuss this recently, and he explained to me that, no, he doesn’t worry much about what other people think.
He just does things. Even though he is, like me, pretty much eternally preoccupied with is interior world, he at the same time manages to conduct himself with an unquenchable self-certainty.
Which is comforting on a whole different level.