What He’s Trying to Say Is…


Steen, “Argument over a card game”

Have you ever managed to paint yourself into the proverbial corner because of your words? 

This very thing happened yesterday in a debate with a nephew. This time he was uncharacteristically the one painted into the proverbial corner.

I will first start by saying that my nephew is a very, very bright and jovial young guy, and an attorney who has chosen to work for a non-profit organization rather than hang his shingle with an oo-la-la law firm, or land some amazing clerk position with some famous judge, either of which he could have easily done. “I hate wearing suits,” is his reply when asked why he didn’t go that route. The actual reason is he is deeply devoted and passionate about social and societal issues. He never gives anyone the first impression that he is an attorney, but that is a person’s first mistake. He knows his trade well; so to say he knows how to argue a point would be putting it mildly.

My other nephew, his younger brother, is a med-student and as bright as his brother, but more moderate in his passions, and holds a somewhat different world view, but knows how to effectively argue a point as well. I blame their parents: family law attorney and linguist who have adventurous spirits and love competition.

So, anyway, the family is gathered for the holiday. The gifts have been exchanged and we are in that transitional lull between gift-giving and whatever is next. A few of us are still sitting in the living room making small talk, etc., when my eldest nephew shares a story about friends of his who did something really stupid, but that he found to be really funny, and even commendable. The story was “funny” only in the way a young man thinks the stupid antics of his friends are hysterical, when in truth, it’s lucky no one was hurt. The details of the story are not necessary, but suffice it to say alcohol and poor judgment played significant roles. My younger nephew also thought the story funny, but countered that what had transpired between his brother’s friends was actually unethical. The others sitting around the room agreed.

BAM! Just like that, the attorney nephew launched into an argument that was, to his credit, focused and with a kind-of merit, but nevertheless had holes in it large enough that the folks of average intelligence in the room could easily drive a SUV right through it (and then turn around and drive back again). He held his ground against all of us, arguing the humanity of the situation and praising his friends for thinking nothing of ethics or legalities. Unfortunately, the more he stubbornly dug in, the more the rest of us came after him, because we agreed with his younger brother: The story was amusing only from a “Jackass TV” perspective, but it did not warrant praise. Mostly, we were a little shocked the way my nephew was defending his friends’ recklessness with the argument he’d prefer to live in a world where people did not first think of how much trouble they could get into, but acted on impulse with the pure intent of helping another in a moment of need.

It was his younger brother who got the last word by saying that good people do good deeds all the time, but the “Jackass TV” aspect of this particular story degraded and skewed the actions of the two friends into something that constitutes a world none of wants to live in; that of a place where drunken antics are laudable. In other words, there is more than one way to skin a cat, which is fine if that suits both you and the cat, but probably best not to perform the task after a long night of partying. It’s best to wait until you’ve slept it off and can go about it soberly (read: thoughtfully/carefully) the next day.

“Time to take a plea deal!” the boys’ father called out from the other room. My eldest nephew was ticked. There is no look more forlorn than an idealistic attorney who’s lost his case, and to a bunch of bourgeoisie family members, and at Christmas, no less. The “plea deal” was just an opportunity to change the subject, and to start a family friendly game of poker, but the poor guy remained a little sore the rest of the evening. He really painted himself into a corner using that story to defend his ideals.

I’ve been thinking more about it as I write this and I completely understand my nephew’s point of view: He applauds his friends’ free spirit; their willingness to act on pure principal regardless what might go wrong. He is a utopian idealist and it is good there is someone making strong arguments for such things in this war-weary world. Doesn’t excuse what his friends did, nor do I even see the humor in it, but I do see his point.

Daily Prompt: Tight Corner