Unpopular opinion: the term “brother” is trite, overused, and meaningless to me at times.
Please put down your pitchforks.
That includes you too, Tom.
Let me explain. Because there’s a chance it may just be me. Perhaps a few people have been feeling it, too.
Or, more likely, most of you will be of the opposite opinion — hence why it is called an opinion.
Let me give you my story with the word “brother.” For me, a “brother” is someone who is as close as possible. Even after growing up with my not-so-great biological brothers, I understood that a brotherhood defined a close relationship.
When YOB was first being formed and names were being suggested for this site, we focused on this notion of incorporating some form of “brother.”
“Brothers” was truly the name for our community. We were guys walking a lonely path together, sharing each other’s burdens; truly, we were becoming as close as brothers.
So, I embraced this notion fully — these were my brothers. As we gained you, our readers, you too became my brothers (and sisters).
It was honestly one of my long-held desires finally being fulfilled.
I have written about my longing for a “true brother.” And I have chronicled my adventures and misadventures looking for one. Recently, I came to the realization that I have the closest relationships I could hope for in John, Carver, and Sam. They are genuinely my three closest guy friends.
Yet when I decided to start calling them “brothers,” I found a poor taste in my mouth. It wasn’t that it was a letdown, as if my expectations had been too high. No, that would’ve just been anticlimactic.
This taste was sourness, as if the word “brother” was now too cheap. This word didn’t properly demonstrate the relationship I have with these men.
As I unraveled this dynamic to understand it, I came to see how often the word “brother” was being used around me.
Amongst the other bloggers, amongst the readers, and amongst my own relationships with guys I wasn’t as close to — the word was being thrown around constantly.
And I saw that I was one of the ones who used “brother” the most. In my desire to embrace this new brotherhood, I had actually started ruining the word for myself.
Old messages, comments, and posts showed me that I had taken “brother” and thrown it around like a tennis ball, bouncing it off every guy around me.
I had worn out this once meaningful word until I couldn’t even bear to say it anymore.
I decided no more would this word cross my lips. I would find a new word for my closest friends, my fellow bloggers, and the readers with whom I interacted.
But then, a close friend of mine commented something in passing. He mentioned that some of the alternate general terms of address people use like “guys” or “man” seemed insincere to him. Those terms came off as distant — like it offset the power balance, making the addressee inferior to the addresser.
He loved the word “brother” because it was an equalizer, showing true camaraderie.
A new thought hit me: what if, in my attempt to superficially title my closest friends, I hurt and distanced myself from other close, dear friends? How could I possibly justify doing that?
The problem had nothing to do with the actual word, “brother.” The problem was that I’d selfishly decided to redeem and reclaim something that I’d never lost. I hadn’t somehow demeaned the specialness of my closest friends with a single word.
The only person upset and offended was myself.
So, where does that leave me now? I still want to call my closest friends by a special name — one that they understand demonstrates how much I care about them.
I want a term to use for the guys I journey with on YOB. And I desire something also to say to you, the reader, so you know well how much I care for you as you journey with us.
For some, maybe the word “brother” does that for them; for others, perhaps another word. And still others may not even really care. I can’t actually know until I talk about it with that person.
Ultimately, I want to be sure each guy in my life understands how much I care for him within that relationship.
How do you define “brother”? Do you use the term or feel that it has lost any previous power? How do you express and demonstrate love to those you care most about?
Brother and sister are great words, we’re family in Christ even if we’re not close. There’s this connection in Christ that’s real that gives the word meaning. You meet new brothers and you’re not starting at zero. I don’t like friend as a title from strangers, it always seems like someone is trying to sell me something. But I’m probably being too cynical. Then again, when was the last time an actual friend addressed you as “friend”? I like to call guys I’m close to bud or buddy when I’m not using their nickname. tbh, what we call someone doesn’t mean much if it’s not backed up by how we treat them. My closest friends don’t need a name to know how I feel about them. We can be deceived by words if the reality’s not there. If someone’s there thru the hard times, they can call me what they want.
Words without actions are useless for sure. That’s a great reminder.
Let’s start with a common foundation each of us has. Each of us are brothers In Christ. Because we each made the decision to trust in Christ alone for our eternal salvation, to believe on him (John 1: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the [e]right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.) Because we are children of God, as men we can call each other brother. This is the
“foundation”, the “glue” that binds us together. It doesn’t matter if my relationship with my brother In Christ is casual, close, or somewhere in between. It also doesn’t matter if another Christian straight or gay (insert your own preferred definition here).
You can chose the term brother, change it to a term that more closely reflects what that relationship is like, eg: very close. Or chose to say we’re very close brothers
Some great thoughts! I appreciate the reference to John talking about our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ!
Oooh I feel like I could write a dissertation on the different ways we use “brother” and why. It’s such an interesting phenomenon to me (at least partially because it includes me). We often use it–sometimes rather generously, as you point out–as a grand term of endearment, but I haven’t seen any other demographic ascribe so much emotional gravity to it. And yet, just in terms of denotation and not connotation, it presupposes no affection, like “friend” does. You don’t actually get to choose your brothers. Not even us.
But we love the idea of brotherhood. There are good reasons for this–one that comes to mind is something I said in a comment to Tom: you can’t be close friends with more than a few people, but kinship is defined differently than friendship, and works differently. You can have a thousand brothers. (And in Christ we have more than that!) We just tend to conflate friendship and kinship, which can lead to muddy linguistic and emotional waters.
Personally, “buddy” has become very endearing to me. I used to hate it, but now I love it–so much that I only use it with a handful of people. But I try to be careful because it rubs a lot of people the wrong way (as it used to do for me).
Your defining of “kinship” and “friendship” speaks to me, Ryan. I think that is where my mind is at. I definitely have a commonality with so many and find a connection through that. But it takes something far more intentional to create a relationship from that.
Also, I like the term “buddy” as well. I tend to use it when being more lighthearted, but I still have it in my vocab. Feel free to call me buddy whenever. 🙂
My dear fellow pilgrim, my co-wanderer, my palmer rich with the treasures of heaven in his soul…my Faithful…my Hopeful.
I come from a faith where Brother and Sister means a baptized member of the church so I actually really struggle to use the term. The closest I get is bro. I’m not really evangelical and definitely not ecumenical, but I also don’t want to come across holier-than-thou.
I also have the need to define the relationship with male friends all the time. I actually got called out in high school for it haha. I guess sometimes it’s a matter of being present in a relationship rather than curating it to the outsider. It also probably is a love language thing…gross.
I totally hear you. It drives me a little nuts how people throw around brother to every guy they come in contact with. It also, in my perception, comes off as someone trying too hard to be christian culture. If I were to call someone (besides biologically) brother, it would indicate a deep friendship, and like you say to use it otherwise cheapens it for me.
But I can see the other side of the coin too. We truly are brothers, especially brothers in Christ, and it’s important to remember that. Some people who use it are genuinely trying to be inclusive. Makes me wonder if there are different words in other languages, like how Greek has so many words for love. Of course if I tried calling guys “philo” they might just think I had a craving for spinach pie. (Or baklava, yum.)