Sibling career choices and ethics
January 26, 2012 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Ideas for how to handle it when a sibling you are very close to is heading into a line of work that symbolizes everything you are against in this world?

A sibling I am very close to is foraying into advertising. The sibling is brilliant, and they seem to be very quickly moving up in this field and rubbing elbows with hotshots and mega-corporations even though they are still in college. I don't want to turn this into a referendum on advertising (substitute any other field you would be deeply against and the question remains the same), but I would like have practical ideas on how I can best deal with this.

The complication is that this is a sibling I am EXTREMELY close to. If it were any of my other siblings, I would have no need to ask this question, but since this sibling is someone I am very close to, it has become more difficult. We have always been 100% open and honest with eachother, but now I find myself speaking only in polite canned responses when they talk about what they are doing.

What I am looking for is

1)Practical ways to respond to them when they tell me about their latest things they are doing with this. Right now, I am saying stuff like "oh that sounds interesting" or "that sounds neat". It feels weird and artificial. But maybe that is the best thing to do?

2)Once I did say something like "Well I at least hope you would never work for anybody truly evil." They agreed and said "Oh no I never would! I would only work for companies like *insert names of companies that I consider evil*

At that point I realized it was probably a lost cause because obviously we had way too different an idea on what the word evil actually meant. I said nothing else. Should I have handled this differently?

3)Just any other ideas for dealing with this in the best way possible.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (59 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you really have two options, right? You can bite your tongue and risk damaging your principles, or you can explain your views rationally and calmly and hope your sibling doesn't take personal offense. If it were me, I'd go with option two.
posted by tau_ceti at 6:00 PM on January 26, 2012

3) Be happy that your sibling seems to have found a rewarding career doing something they enjoy and respect that everyone has different ideas of what "evil" means and perhaps your views, though right for you, may not be right for everyone.

If you don't like what your sibling is doing, perhaps avoid discussing it with them (I just say "uh huh" and nothing further whenever my brother steers the conversation somewhere I don't want to go) but unless you want your sibling to tell you to go pound sand, maybe you can lighten up on the judgement.
posted by bondcliff at 6:01 PM on January 26, 2012 [51 favorites]

Are the things they're talking to you particularly evil? If so, just say "Wow, bro, that's more than a little evil." Have an actual conversation instead of just writing them off. If they're not actually doing evil things themselves, then why treat it any differently from any other job they had? There's very few choices of profession that don't get more evil the closer you get to the top. If you're going to rule out talking to them about any job that doesn't have evil management, then you have to come to terms with a radical change to your relationship, and so does your sibling, because that is a whole lot to ask of someone. Is everything your workplace does squeeky clean?

I've been in the opposite situation, where I did something I had to do for my future, and my close sibling wasn't supportive and didn't want to hear anything about it. It was incredibly hurtful to not have them to talk to for the first time in my life. I would have appreciated any level of engagement with what I was saying.
posted by bleep at 6:04 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Advertizing is full of creative, smart, interesting people. I hate it as a product, but unless Sibling gets a job at an agency producing the Glenn Beck Show, I think you should trust Sibling to make decisions, and to live his/her life by his/her values, not yours. You deal with it by accepting that people get to make their own choices. Spend some time listening to why Sibling is making this choice.
posted by theora55 at 6:05 PM on January 26, 2012 [14 favorites]

I'm one of those people who is very close with his siblings, as an adult. One of the daunting things about this that I've discovered over the years is that there's almost no way that we'll be exactly as close in the long run as we are right now -- precisely because of things like this. People get married and move across the country. Or worse, they marry someone you don't like. Or have addictions or personal problems that you can't help them with, and that limit how close you can become to them. There is a sort of elliptical progress to sibling relationships -- there will be periods of great closeness, and periods of profound isolation, and since they're family, you can sort of let go and trust that they're around for the long haul, and if you're not on the same page now, your orbits will hopefully align again someday soon.

It's fantastically fortunate when you are very close to your siblings, but you have to remember that your intimacy is based purely on your shared background, and not necessarily on any shared beliefs or interests. You are going to discover wide chasms of difference between you -- differences that you might consciously avoid in other people.

You've made your opinions about his career very plain. There's really nothing more you can do, and if you keep pushing you're just going to drive that wedge deeper. This would be a good time to find things in your own life to tend to. Which is sort of a more constructive way of saying, "Mind your own business."
posted by hermitosis at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2012 [16 favorites]

Your sibling is a distinct, autonomous person with different but equally legitimate options, preferences, desires, values, interests, and ways of looking at the world. Unconditional love means loving and supporting people even when they make choices we might not make ourselves. This is a feature of close relationships, not a bug.
posted by scody at 6:07 PM on January 26, 2012 [34 favorites]

PS, I am extremely anti-advertising. I'd probably react to this a lot like you have, but ultimately I'd have to face that it's really not my call. It's all I can manage to live my own life the way I want it, I can't take on someone else's.
posted by hermitosis at 6:08 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

4) Investigate your prejudice against advertising/the industries you despise and broaden your outlook.

Caveat: I was in advertising both before and after working as an environmental activist. After my activism (which is really still ongoing) I chose not to work on forestry accounts. In the end that approach cost me my job.

Advertising is not inherently bad. Planet pillaging and unhealthy products where the buyer is conned by untruthful (or less than truthful) advertising - that is bad.

Finesse your approach - don't be so blatant, find common ground, ask your sibling to educate you on positive advertising (it exists).
posted by Kerasia at 6:09 PM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

This sort of happened to me [my sister works for the State Police] but honestly, I realized that I was overgeneralizing a lot of stuff about her work and the general outfit she worked for. She does some interesting things (she is not a cop) and she's still her even though she has a job that I find a bit odd. But realistically, I sort of had to feel if I felt closer to my principles about this sort of thing or if I felt closer to her, and it wasn't really close. And more importantly, she has perspective on her job such that she doesn't require me to change my own feelings about her workplace. It works for her for a number of reasons and this is good news because she's happily employed doing something where she feels that her own attributes and skills make a difference. I don't live with her, we see each other every month or so and we have a bunch more stuff to email about than just "How is work?" so it doesn't even come up very often.

But realistically, for me, it's more important to me to get along with my sister and find areas of mutual respect than to hate the police OUT LOUD. I mean I still do the social justice work that I do and I still am fairly skeptical about the organized power of the state, but I have many friends that I can share those feelings with and I don't need my sister--who is and has always been a different person from me--to legitimize those feelings. My folks love us both in different ways. I don't mean to sound patronizing but I feel that making these sorts of decisions for yourself is a part of feeling out your own ethics and morality and is a part of growing up. There are no right answers, but it's a good way to sort of look at yourself in the mirror and figure out what your priorities really are.
posted by jessamyn at 6:10 PM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

Its really none of your business what anyone else (sibling or not) does for a living, so butt out or avoid the topic.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:15 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't quite understand why your brother's choice of career has anything to do with you. Don't like ads? Rip 'em out or change the channel. If he sends you stuff, either be nice/honest about his creative efforts or tell him that you can't honestly judge (because he's your brother and you can't be objective!)

Is your entire social circle one big echo chamber? I like knowing people who don't think the same why I do, personally.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:15 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I do not view your prejudging an entire industry, in which hundreds of thousands of people work, as worthy of comment. Your sibling is unlikely to either. I can't possibly imagine why you would let a sibling's career success fracture your relationship with them. In my view, this is entirely your problem, and not at all your sibling's, so you should view your task as working to learn about what is cool/interesting/useful about your sibling's career so you can work past your prejudices.

You write about this as though you just found out he's a pedophile. That is literally insane. Get over it.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2012 [50 favorites]

one practical thing you can do is to try as hard as you possibly can to stay in the moment, and stay curious.

i can *guarantee* you that you don't know anything at all about advertising, or the world your sibling's moving in - and if you actually know something (rather than just assuming you know something), it's because of your sibling.

so *focus* on gaining information, learning, expanding your horizons. i'm not saying you have to love something you think you hate - but you are robbing yourself if you live your entire life inside your prejudices. the world is *complex*. you can exert yourself in this direction in complete safety - all you're doing is learning.
posted by facetious at 6:19 PM on January 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

Can you believe my bro is an global warming denialist? I mean, really?!? However, he is my dear and good brother, generous and kind, and as a human being has the right to make his own moral decisions. We pretty much agree not to agree on the topic, and occasionally when we do discuss it, we are careful not to make an issue of it.

This was the standard for me and my beloved on issues such as politics, long day child care, welfare, indigenous people and so on. I am sure they made similar concessions on my behalf.
posted by b33j at 6:29 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My beloved = loved ones.
posted by b33j at 6:30 PM on January 26, 2012

Maybe you should just come clean with your sibling on your feelings about the company they're working for and the shoulders they're rubbing. Yeah, it may be a sticking point for a bit - but if you can give genuine reasons for feeling this way they might respect you and your opinion more. And, likewise, your opinions of their career may shift slightly.
posted by hnnrs at 6:32 PM on January 26, 2012

Siblings do all kind of crazy stuff, and seriously, this is pretty tame. My sister has driven me bonkers with many things (child rearing ideas, dealing with our parents, all that fun stuff) but at the end of the day you have to recognize that they are their own person.

I vehemently disagree with her about quite a few things, but I only vent about it to my husband or my best friend - to her I try very hard to be polite about it or just carefully avoid particular topics. I'm sure I do the same to her, given how differently we see the world. What you think about a person's choices and how you act to them, if it's someone you love, can be very different. A lot of it for me is respect - I respect her right to make her own choices, like I made my own. If she carries on with what she's doing, that's life. You really really can't control the people you love, and down that path lies a great deal of grief and pain. I say this having learned the hard way a few times.

On the practical ways to deal with this - that's a hard one. When we get into discussions about something where I could go off the rails with "OMG, how can you not see that you are WRONG?!?!" easily, I try very very hard to keep to fairly bland "i'm happy you're happy" answers. Works even better if my husband is around, he is the master diplomat at some of that. But at the end of the day - her life. She's an adult. She's earned the right to do what I think of as "screwing up" the same as I've earned the right to do things that she thinks are stupid.
posted by lyra4 at 6:33 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ironic that several answers have to do with accepting that Sibling has the right to self-determination and control of his/her own life, given that the industry in question is devoted to developing insidious ways to erode the self-determination and life-control of individual people.

Anonymous: the notion that, having made yourself clear, you have to accept your sibling's choice (in some way) is exactly right, unless your aversion to advertising is such that you believe you should take an active role in opposing this most powerful of currently extant social forces. I'm afraid this is literally a question about whether a personal conviction of yours, or a personal relationship of yours, is more important to you. There isn't really an AskMefiable answer to this, unless you detail your convictions about advertising, your reasons for holding those convictions, and give concrete examples of the strength of those convictions.
posted by kengraham at 6:35 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Even though I am a despiser of consumer culture and a critic of capitalism and all that, I myself have considered advertising as a career at times. I mean, it makes use of everything I love and am good at - creativity, brainstorming, thinking about audiences, collaboration, media, challenges on short deadlines with high stakes. I understand the hell out of why someone would be attracted to it.

This is your sibling. Sit down and imagine all the other things they could have done that really would have driven a wedge between you: judged and rejected you for your choices, pursued an extreme religious cult, disowned you and your family, married someone just terrible to them. This is small potatoes in life's grand drama.

Ultimately, you make choices for you. If you don't like evil work, don't do evil work. But you don't make choices for everybody else. You can do one of two things to maintain harmony: seek to understand with genuine curiosity and lack of judgment; or just don't speak about work.
posted by Miko at 6:38 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I wonder what you do, because every industry has something morally questionable about it, or gets funding from morally questionable places. I can't think of any work which is morally perfect. Also: whose morals?

I work in advertising, and while I wouldn't want to work on a tobacco client, I don't think I'm evil. I also see how much advertising affects a lot of fields. Work on a major website? Ads pay the bills. Most products are sold by the way they're marketed and advertised. Even small shops do advertising of one kind or another. I don't know any actors who wouldn't take jobs on commercials, even those who claim to hate advertising.

Advertising is a great haven for creative people who enjoy collaboration. The client basically comes to you looking for creative thinking, psychological insights, market research -- it's a lot of fun, and really thrilling when the work succeeds. Especially in agency work, there are some really great moments when everyone really felt like we worked together and achieved something really unique. Plus a lot of agency work is incremental, which means your company or you get paid on a project by project basis. This is fun for a lot of go getter type people, because you're only as good as your last work and you're always proving yourself and trying to out do what you've done.

There are a lot of people doing this work, far too many for all of them to be "evil."

I think you're really catastrophizing this issue, and making it about yourself. Your brother's in college, still a kid and excited about learning about this industry. That's great! Few people really know what they want to do at that age. You should encourage his interest in something that's helping him learn and meet interesting people. And take a look at what you do and see if there's absolutely no ethical issues there. I'm sure there are some.
posted by sweetkid at 6:41 PM on January 26, 2012 [16 favorites]

We are not defined by our work. Your sibling is probably not going to be a significantly different person just because of their work.

Evil is a very strong word and much overused.

Kengraham makes an interesting point: if this is a question about your sibling's right for self determination and the implication that advertising generally undermines it, then surely your desire to influence your sibling away from their chosen field must be viewed as 'evil' as advertising.

I'd say that it probably has little to do with you. You should aim to maintain the healthy relationship that the two of you have while recognising that your world view is not absolutely correct and others are entitled to a differing view.
posted by dantodd at 6:43 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Sigh. Ok. I work in advertising. I'm a big ol' evil copywriter that make the (least offensive I can possibly make) banner ads that everyone hates, among other things.

(And most of my friends, including hermitosis, are pretty anti-ad.)

However, a quote from one of my meditation teachers: It's almost impossible to "do no harm" in modern life. The best you can do is try to zero it out.

So, yeah. I do work for evil corporations. But I also volunteer to use my skills at the New York Tenement Museum. I do some serious pro bono work for "let's change the system" health care start-ups, on top of the 80+ hours a week I'm in the office.

Everyone, and I mean everyone in every profession, is trying to do the best they can. The smarter ones are doing the best they can to make the world a better place, even though they have to make sacrifices to "evil."


Your sibling is really young. If they want to be in advertising, they have a long road ahead of them. They will grow ethics as they go, and decide what boundaries they will place. I, personally, will not work on pharma ads of any kind, or any cigarette brand (even though I'm a smoker).

One of my first projects was for the company responsible for Agent Orange. I cried for a week, sucked it up, finished the project, and swore to do my best to not work for them again.

But I may have to—so I'll try to zero it out and put in more time with the non-profits.

Get my drift? We're not evil in advertising. We're people doing the best we can, however we can.

If you want to support your sibling constructively, encourage them to "zero it out."

(Sorry for haphazard answer. Super tired over here.)
posted by functionequalsform at 6:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [42 favorites]

If you restrict yourself to saying "neat" or "interesting" all the time but don't feel OK about it there is a non-zero possibility that you will eventually blow up in a way that makes things awful. If you can't feel OK but want to avoid conflict, maybe you could just say something like, "We have really different ideas about what advertising is and what it does, so could we treat it like it's a political thing and not talk about it? Otherwise I have a feeling I'm going to end up sending you links to Adbusters or something every other week and I don't think anybody wants that to happen." If you are then required to explain further, say your piece one time only. Or say, "if you're interested, I think this [book or short piece, but shorter is better; but don't ever suggest one again, you will be filed as a nag] sums it up pretty well." In order to change your sibling's mind about this you'd have to change his/her mind not so much about advertising in particular but about some much more basic assumptions, I don't know which ones, and that's something that would probably have to happen organically if it were to happen at all. Not much fun or utility in making your closest family members feel like they have to dig in their heels to defend themselves.
posted by Adventurer at 6:46 PM on January 26, 2012

I'm not gonna spend breath telling you that advertising is great or whatever - you feel how you feel (though I will point out, the more you know about a thing, the harder it is to generalise about it).

But, take an outcomes-based approach here. If you decide that's the straw that broke the camel's back, stop talking about advertising with your sibling, probably withdraw in your relationship with them a little, what will be the result of that? Some hurt, no doubt. Probably some befuddlement, almost certainly some resentment, stress, bad times. Will your sibling stop working in advertising based on your boycott? Almost certainly not (esp not if you're in a place where the economy is tanking at the moment...).

Change comes from engagement, not disengagement. If you talk to your sibling, learning everything you can about their work and the industry in general, maybe you can channel your ambiguous feelings about advertising into more productive places, both with your sibling and yourself. View conversations with her as a learning opportunity - how much do you know about advertising? And if you want to influence them, you need to be positive and respectful.

This is a kind of patronising simile, but imagine if - when Pinocchio started heading off the rails - Jiminy Cricket was like "Fuck this, Toyland is wack yo, I'm audi!" and just left him to spend the rest of his days as a desitute donkey. How would Pinocchio felt about Jiminy or the Blue Fairy if they did that? Instead, they stuck around, gave advice when they could, in ways they thought it would be heard, and always helped him out when he needed it. That's what family does, and everyone should do.
posted by smoke at 6:58 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not about you.
posted by gjc at 7:01 PM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

I was like your sibling in our situation: I got really involved in a field that my sister was dubious about and my parents greatly disapproved of - so much so that they hassled my sister to "advise me" to the point that my normally hands-off-it's-her-choice sister turned against me and told me she couldn't relate to me anymore, that she felt that she "didn't have a little sister anymore". Do NOT do this. Out of everyone in my family (inc extensions) my sister was one of the few who (I thought) would empathise with my more iconoclastic alternative self - and this was a major blow.

Your sibling is more than their job. They have heartbreaks and loves, hobbies and turnoffs, interests, miracles, bog-standard stuff, all sorts of things. Don't turn them into a one-dimensional person. If you don't want to engage with them on their job, so be it - but don't let it ruin everything else about your relationship. You're both people; I'm sure you can find other things to talk about.

(As for my sister and I: I'm not sure that we are as close as we used to be, and ever will be again. It made me feel like I couldn't trust her for other things because she'd be using my interests & activities against me or try to draw correlations between them, and that she probably wouldn't respect my privacy. Now I feel like the one who lost a sister.)
posted by divabat at 7:02 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Stock answer: "I have a negative view point about this issue and rather than harm our relationship, I'd rather we limit our conversation on it."

No preaching, no nagging, no pointed remarks, no feigned indifference, no canned responses necessary unless your sibling is actively doing something you are morally against, not just working in an industry you happen to hold in contempt. Your responsibility here is not how you should handle their choices but how you can best support and encourage your sibling despite your feelings. I really hope that was the intent of your question. It should be.
posted by sm1tten at 7:08 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Either you're leaving out some sort of detail regarding the specific horribleness of your sibling's career path, like writing ad copy for hate groups, or you're way way WAY overgeneralizing the industry. Yes, advertising is used by unethical companies for unethical purposes. But ethical companies and non-profit organizations advertise, too. Often they need to. And many good media outlets depend on advertising revenue to stay afloat.

Instead of years of forced "mm-hmm sounds neat" responses, you should bring this up to Sibling soon. But frame in a way that's curious, not judgmental. "I get the impression that advertising is unethical. What do you think?" Give Sibling the chance to show you a different perspective. Don't make it an argument; just listen. You don't have to be convinced, you just need to allow your sibling to share their side of the story.

You're not going to stop Sibling from pursuing this, so your options are to learn enough about the field to soften your views, figure out how to mentally separate your sibling from their career, or continue to fume and eventually have a major fight from which you may never recover.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:09 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

N-thing the collective "You deal with this by getting over yourself and your prejudices on your own." that's prevailing thoughout this askme.

And if someday your sibling ends up bailing on the ad industry for his own reasons, don't be a dick and unleash all your biased hatred of his former career then either.

You sound extreme. This situation is not.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:11 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The less you know about something, the easier it is to form an opinion.

I am going to take a stab in the dark and say that your sibling probably knows more about Evil Corporation Of Doom then you do. I would talk to your sibling about this company's merits from her perspective inside of the company before deciding that he/she has fallen to the dark side of the force.
posted by Shouraku at 7:14 PM on January 26, 2012

Listen more. Judge less.
posted by Anitanola at 7:19 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are yoy very young yourself? I wonder if you don't have a lot of work experience. Even if an industry may be "good," there can be some shady individuals working within, which makes the whole experience not so good.

In my experience, there are some very nice, thoughtful, ethical people in advertising/marketing/web design, and some bad people. There are some nice people in nonprofit work, and some SERIOUSLY morally bankrupt people in nonprofit work. So.
posted by sweetkid at 7:20 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who spent years working in the financial services industry, then left it to work at a non-profit with the idea that she would be doing less evil and more good in the world. Then she found that when she was working at the non-profit, she was broke, overworked, stressed, and very aware that the non-profit by necessity spent much of its time trying to court high-net-worth people for donations and successful private sector companies for sponsorship. She was miserable. She was overqualified for her job, had less time for her friends and family, had fewer opportunities to learn and grow, she had no discretionary income to give to her community and the causes she cared about. She found the actual day-to-day work that she was doing was MORE distasteful to her than it was when she worked in a more "evil" industry in the private sector, and that she was having less of a positive net impact on the world.

What she concluded, and what I believe, is that it is how you lead your life that matters, including your professional life, not what crisp industry definition your work appears to fall into. Are you using your talents well? Are you doing your work thoughtfully, and treating your colleagues, clients, customers and suppliers ethically and with respect? What matters is not what industry your sibling's work happens to fall into, but whether they are leading a life that is the most fulfilling to them and allows them to thrive and be good to the people around them.

We all buy products and use money and interact with companies large and small every day. Orphanages and organic farms and and public health clinics and musicians and cancer research institutes all need and use advertising. Trust that your sibling's good heart and brilliant mind will drive whether he/she is a force for good or evil in the world.
posted by argonauta at 7:48 PM on January 26, 2012 [33 favorites]

There are brilliant artists and graphic designers who have worked in advertising over the years, producing some breathtaking work. Like others answering here, I would encourage you to not view the situation as so black-and-white.

I thought some book recommendations might help -- that maybe you could read about some seminal artists and graphic designers, read about and see the work they have produced. Maybe you will find something to appreciate and it will allow you to relate to your sibling about their career. Please note that not all of the work detailed in these books concern advertising -- many artists have worked in advertising occasionally or for short periods of time in-between working on other projects.

The Art of Advertising: George Lois on Mass Communication by George Lois and Bill Pitts, Abrams, 1977

The Graphic Design of Yusaku Kamekura by Yusaku Kamekura, Weatherhill, New York & Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, Tokyo, 1973. See some screenshots of his work here and here.

Herb Lubalin: Art Director, Graphic Designer and Typographer by Gertrude Snyder and Alan Peckolick, American Showcase, 1985. Screenshots here.
posted by mlis at 7:55 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hi there OP! I work in advertising. Actually, I moved into Evil Advertising after working as a Righteous Journalist for years.

Sometimes I think my journalist friends are right when they say I have moved to the "the dark side." I spend my days thinking of ways that I can wring more money out of Exxon and GM and Pfizer. Some days, I wonder if I am doing the right thing. I mean, I have moral qualms, dude, when BP wants to run a campaign talking about how much they "care." I don't really care if Ford sells its new car and if it reaches the right demographic. You're not wrong that there are some personal ethics that you have to wrestle with. There is some awful, awful crap out there, both grand and banal.

But sometimes I think my journalist friends are right when they say I have moved to the lucky side. I get to call more shots now and not report on Paris Hilton getting out of jail or do a story on whether or not dictators have fashion sense. The deals I make actively fund more helicopters of journalists going in to Haiti. The money we wring from Exxon actively allows us to get more reporters in the middle of Tahrir Square with the equipment they need to broadcast to the world what is happening. I spend my days thinking about ways that I can promote what the CDC has to say about heart health, or a new drug to combat addiction, or a company's efforts to put more schoolbooks in the hands of children.

I hate product advertising, but I don't think a yogurt company trying to get more people to try its yogurt is the epitome of evil. In fact, their yogurt is tasty, and I'm glad my cafeteria stocks it now. I don't love what Coke or Nike stand for "as brands", my god how I hate how there is supposed to be passion behind that shit, but I do wholeheartedly believe more people should know the absolute joy in Dyson ownership.

Almost every single thing and service that you have in your life needed some kind of advertising so that people would know to try it out and incorporate it into their lives. The world is a nuanced one and no man is an island.
posted by sestaaak at 8:05 PM on January 26, 2012 [21 favorites]

It's none of your business what his career choices are, and it's none of his business what you think of the advertising world. Anything more without being asked is inflicting yourself on him. Beyond that, in the long run it doesn't really matter what any one of us chooses for a career, unless you're choosing to be Hitler or something, but they usually catch that in postgrad these days.
posted by rhizome at 8:08 PM on January 26, 2012

Love 'em. There's so much more in your sibling to love than to hate.

Here's my story:

I'm so non-religious I'm not even an atheist. I find most organized religions awful for a number of reasons, but I really just can't stand those who try get/make people who don't believe what they do to convert. I think it's evil.

Other people think differently. One is my sister, who I'm close to and love dearly. She's a missionary. Our difference is bigger than a job. I believe she's spreading evil, and she believes I'm going to hell for eternity. We will never agree.

So we talked about it. Very low key, no yelling, no screaming, no brining it up at an unexpected moment when the stress just breaks and you can't take it any more. We made an appointment and we both explained our positions to each other and why it bothered the other one so much. It was emotional. We both cried, but in the end we both love each other and there is so much of her that I appreciate that is not a missionary (just like your brother is not his job) that we can move beyond it.

So, you know, I get it. And she gets it. And we haven't discussed it since. She knows there's no point in putting me on the missionary mailing list and I don't try to undermine what she does.

We're still as close as we ever were. In fact more. We still hang out, but she doesn't try to get me to go to church any more, and I don't harp on her.
posted by Ookseer at 8:15 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

This is happening to me right now with my brother. I spent my college years getting arrested at anti-war protests. He just joined the Marines.

We're very close, so we talk a lot about what his training entails. This is sort of... problematic? because, being a Marine, a lot of his job directly involves doing destructive and warlike stuff to people. Like, literally he just went through training to learn to place land mines. Which, ummmm, yeah. I'd like to believe that my baby brother will only ever kill bad guys, but, well, I know what war is. And I know that, in a few years, he will, too.

Weirdly enough, I was glad when he decided to go into the military. I think it'll ultimately be good for him, and in a lot of ways it already has done him a world of good on a personal level. But, y'know, I didn't really think he'd go into a part of the military that was so... fatal to children and other living things.

Right now my way of dealing with it is a lot of cognitive dissonance. He's still my brother, and I still love and support him. Even though I know intellectually that he's going to end up blowing up a village full of innocent civilians someday.

The hardest part, oddly enough, is dealing with other family members who think he's made a GREAT choice in life and are absolutely unconflicted about it. They are SO FUCKING PROUD of him. It's harder to be around them than it is to be around him.
posted by Sara C. at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

"You know, I'm really proud of you, and of what you're accomplishing, especially at such a young age. I just wanted to let you know that even though I'm personally not a fan of the advertising business, and so I'm not really going to be particularly interested in or knowledgeable about the things that your company does, I *am* really interested in you and your successes, and what you're going to be doing for your company. I really hope this works out for you, because I want you to be happy."
posted by davejay at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

as a grown-ass adult, you get to decide what to do and how to live your life. as a grown-ass adult your brother has the same privilege. your grown-ass adult rights do not include telling your brother how to live his life anymore than he gets to tell you how to live yours. when my brother decided he didn't like the way i was living my life, he sent me a bunch of really nasty emails and then stopped talking me. when i fly down to visit my mother, he rents a hotel rather than deign to be under the same roof as me. yes, this is a 41 yr old man who still lives with his mother being judgmental about me, the sibling who hasn't lived at home since graduating h.s. and while it hurts, i also think he's acting like a complete immature dickhead bc i actually dare to make different choices than he would. don't be that sibling.
posted by violetk at 9:20 PM on January 26, 2012

Doesn't advertising pay for all of MetaFilter? We're all part of this culture, somehow.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

"You know, I really hate advertising. Can you tell me why you like it?"
posted by czytm at 9:27 PM on January 26, 2012

Explain that you don't like it.

Now it's off your chest. Now ask what the sibling is up to anyways, including work, and listen.
posted by ead at 10:35 PM on January 26, 2012

I work for the mining industry. I'm okay with this. I have a friend who is very much not okay with this. We're still great mates.

She never pulled any punches. I'm well aware that she thinks it's an awful industry, and she's well aware that I've thought about it a lot and disagree. If she just kept quiet and was silently judging me, I'd be pretty disappointed in her.

Be honest with your brother. Tell him the things that concern you about it, and ask him for insight. Ask him how he sees it. It's possible that he went into it cautiously and then realised that his concerns don't apply to much of it. If you're actually close to him, then treat him like an adult and be honest.
posted by twirlypen at 11:27 PM on January 26, 2012

1)Practical ways to respond to them when they tell me about their latest things they are doing with this. Right now, I am saying stuff like "oh that sounds interesting" or "that sounds neat". It feels weird and artificial. But maybe that is the best thing to do?

Yes, sometimes love is about putting our own personal ideologies on the backburner to support someone. Your sibling is not a hitman. They are in advertising - they do advertising for companies you dislike. So what. Are they happy?

You can escalate this into a big thing in which you will no doubt lose your sibling or you can just accept that sometimes people do things that we don't necessarily agree with but that doesn't mean we don't love them any less.

You can talk to your sibling about how you dislike some of the companies they advertise for - having your opinion and expressing it is of course valid - but I would really tread carefully here. From the tone of your question you could come across as being very judgmental. Just remember that we all live our own lives.
posted by mleigh at 11:43 PM on January 26, 2012


Some people were suggesting earlier that you're being supremely self-centred or coddled from being in an echo chamber. I don't know if that's true or not and I don't want to be presumptious but an alternate interpretation could be that a lot of your anxiety and unhappiness is symptomatic of constantly feeling like you're a killjoy because you're the odd one out because of your (minority) opinions and having someone really close to you 'turn on you' embodies your isolation in yet another way.

Being anti-marketing-industry or anti-capitalist or whatever is usually a minority position to hold in the day to day world if you're not part of a campus/activist subculture. After all, a big reason people flock to those sub-cultures in the first place is for a chance to breathe - and to not have to argue their way in and out and around every proposition that comes out of their mouths. It was really really rough for my relationship with my parents when I first started to question some of the assumed values that permeate our society. Being racialized immigrants we have had to aggressively adapt to and internalize certain ethos about what the good life entails in North America. When I was voicing dissenting thoughts, I was not just disagreeing with them on matters of principle, but somehow undermining everything they laboured to achieve. A friend who went through similar experiences forwarded me recently some writing about silence in these kinds of frought relationships and yes, it was/is like that exactly with my parents. It was especially difficult because though I went to an alternative-ish school, most of my friends at the time thought I was being weird and shared my parents' opinion that I was making life more difficult for myself for no reason.

So what helped? Finding avenues of expression and relating to others where I wasn't constantly defensive or made to feel like I had to hide something about myself to get along with them. My relationship with my parents still hasn't completely recovered and may never return to the level of comfort and intimacy it once was. I was really broken up about this but am slowly starting to recognize and value it for whatever it is. Breathing room definitely helped. With the security that comes from being around people watching out for my back because we were on the "same side" or whatever I've felt less alienated. Having people who I can definitely relate to on the basis of politics (in addition to our personalities, shared stories/experiences/likes/dislikes) ironically made it much easier to have relationships where common political values arent a necessity. Day-to-day I'm a lot less prickly than I was 5 years ago and a lot more accepting - and being in a more accepting environment myself was absolutely vital to that change. As someone quoting Abed from Community in an unrelated thread said:
"Once you know who you are and what you really like about yourself, changing for others is not such a big deal."
I don't mean to assume that my experience bears any ressemblance to yours, since again, I know little of your overall situation. But I definitely want to offer a more charitable reading than ones that try to convince you of your wrongness in caring a lot both about the ethics of advertising/marketing and your relationship to your sibling at the same time.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 2:07 AM on January 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Also, I really like this list of Ten Ways to Love Others.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 2:42 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Talk about it with him! Not in a "Bro, why have you gone into this vile and morally bankrupt industry?" but "Hey, so what was it about advertising that attracted you?" Keep an open mind. Maybe you'll learn more about the industry and it will turn out that certain aspects of it aren't evil. Maybe you'll change each others' world-view, or at least grow to understand each other a bit more. I've found that life is rarely black and white.

My sibling are in totally opposite work sectors - I'm in nonprofit, they're in banking - and we live totally different lifestyles, but frankly we have more work-stuff in common (nightmare boss, nightmare workload, funny colleague stories) than not.

And also - they're your sibling and irreplaceable. How they choose to earn their keep is only a small aspect of the person you love. So, you know, whatever. They made a choice you wouldn't make. That's ok. Let it go.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:06 AM on January 27, 2012

Your brother's an adult, and is responsible for his own choices --- just as you are responsible for YOUR life choices. If I was you, I'd back off unless specifically asked.

Look, I've got one sister who is very conservative, both religiously and politically (she supports Gingrich, for cryin' out loud!); another sister, an atheist, supports Occupy-everything and just about every extremely liberal cause you can think of. We long ago learned we don't have the right to judge each other.
posted by easily confused at 4:24 AM on January 27, 2012

I think it's important to remember that the consequences of any large decision are impossible to predict accurately. Because you seem to be assuming right now that there are only linear paths through the world. By this logic, your sibling's path is necessarily going to look like this: get involved in an "evil" industry --> become evil --> do evil things in the world.

For better or worse, though, life rarely moves that linearly. Decisions have unexpected consequences. Right after college, for example, I moved to Colorado because I never wanted to see the inside of a classroom again. Instead, I wanted to spend the rest of my life working as a (poor but sexy) river guide, working seasonally and living out of my car. I did that for a while, but, startlingly, I realized after a couple of years that I valued school and reading more highly than being able to row a perfect line through a rapid. Which meant that my brother and I, who had seemed to be on irredeemably different paths through life, were suddenly both applying to grad school at the same time.

I'm not saying that you should talk to your sibling only because you're holding out hope that they are going to change their mind. But relationships inevitably ebb and flow, and taking such a rigid view of the world and separating everything into "good" and "evil" like a fairytale could blind you to the serendipitious moments when all of a sudden you're realigned with your sibling. I think if you don't take advantage of those moments--or if you can't even see them for the black-and-white thinking--then it is likely that you two will inevitably grow farther and farther apart.

However if you can keep an open mind about his work, it is likely that although you will have some periods when the two of you aren't as close, there will also be periods when you two are as close as you are now or maybe closer. In my opinion, it is better to continually cycle through these periods of closeness and not-closeness than to just move farther and farther away from each other. To do that though, you have to accept that life is not always linear.
posted by colfax at 4:32 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tell him you love him, then show him by asking him how you can help in his career.
posted by anildash at 5:44 AM on January 27, 2012

A friend of mine, who coincindentally works both in advertising and social justice, has a saying that I repeat to myself when I feel like I'm starting to judge other folks for life decisions of this kind:

"All our hands are dirty until all our hands are clean."
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:12 AM on January 27, 2012

My brother -- among other things -- does a lot of activism and advocacy work for reforming and regulating the overseas mining and resource extraction industry. I work for a mega-giant oil company. We talk a lot about these things. From him, I get information on the front lines about how western companies are running roughshod over marginalized communities in the hinterlands of developing countries. He asks me a lot of technical questions and I help him parse the geology and science speak in the companies' press releases and environmental assessments. He also gets a lot of insight into the business processes and internal dynamics of these places.

It can work. Even though we nominally work on the opposite side of a series of issues that we take very seriously, we have a lot of appreciation and respect for each other's experience, expertise and opinions. We have a good sense of humour about things, generally, which helps. We're both very interested in the other's world and would never, never imagine making this personal. I've never gotten a breath of censure from him about my profession and work.

Engagement, genuine care and interest, humor, and perspective are the crucial things. In short, the sorts of things that make any solid and genuine relationship work.
posted by bumpkin at 6:18 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Glass houses. Pick out any quality of yours that someone else might not approve of, but where you're not terribly passionate about the issue. I want to list an example, but the odds have to be low on it applying to you. So let's say you like football (or, if you prefer, got a job in Accounting for a football team), and your brother thinks football is barbaric, and finds it unconscionable that you would connect yourself with it. You might not care to hear about it. You certainly wouldn't want to hear it all the time.

Not sure I have a great answer on how to interact with him, though. You could try changing the subject, letting him get out his work update and then saying "And how's Trixie (or whoever/whatever)" but he might eventually notice what's going on. It's certainly possible to tell him politely that advertising isn't a subject you want to discuss, but politeness is no guarantee he won't be hurt.
posted by troywestfield at 7:01 AM on January 27, 2012

Unless you live in a log cabin you made yourself in the woods, hunt for your own food and make your own clothing, you are constantly buying things that are advertised. If you tell your sibling that he is an evil advertiser, you will come off looking like a hypocrite which your sibling will more than likely point out to you. It's almost like Alec Baldwin, who is known for his liberal views, being a spokesman for Capital One. Support the people you love, even if you don't always agree with what they are doing in life. It's the adult thing to do!
posted by sybarite09 at 7:19 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

How to handle this situation best? Lead by example. I think you're getting ahead of yourself anyway, because your sibling is so young it's not at all clear what he'll be going into in the long run. But that makes it even more important that you be a good example if you really expect to influence him. Examine your own relationship to the corporate world. (I'm with sybarite09 on that, by the way; there is a good chance that you look like a hypocrite if you criticize only a number of soft targets like the advertising industry.) Once you are sure you're living in a way that makes sense, make it look attractive.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing someone close to you who you think is making a mistake but that should be, like, once or twice in a lifetime if you think they are putting themselves at risk.
posted by BibiRose at 8:35 AM on January 27, 2012

Ideas for how to handle it when a sibling you are very close to is heading into a line of work that symbolizes everything you are against in this world?

Consider what is more important to you: symbols or relationships?

Are relationships really something that your principles would subordinate to symbols?

His work, life, and choices, will contribute both good and harm to the world - as will yours. Sometimes, tremendous good can come from people who have made particularly large compromises with ethical ideals - but everybody makes some compromises.

If you value symbols more than your relationship with him, that will come through to him no matter how much you clench your jaw and say "that's nice." If you value your relationship more than what his work symbolizes, that will also come through to him, no matter how much you keep a loving and positive dialogue between you about values and ethics in and outside the workplace.

(And if you do value symbols more than relationships, you may well have more common ground with advertising than you think...)
posted by Salamandrous at 9:22 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I speak from experience, when I say that comparing your siblings professional choices to the support staff who enabled the Third Reich is, in a word, unhelpful. (My sister became a military subcontractor in Afghanistan. Is still think that the comparison is apt.)

You have to step back and accept that the real problem here is that it is causing you to question your own values. You wont stop loving your sibling. Instead, you'll have to accept that you can love someone who is doing morally reprehensible (to you) things. And you have to accept that it doesn't mean you've abandoned your principles.

It might help you to pursue the equivalent of carbon offsets for your relationship with your sibling. Do something that works to undo the damage you see them doing in the world. Do it because you love them. Don't tell them about it. Don't lord it over them. And don't resent them because you have to do this in order to be true to your beliefs. Maybe you can't fully mitigate their contribution to the system you oppose (I can't pay a human rights activist a six figure salary to compete with my sister's military subcontractor work), but you can find creative and productive ways to become involved in the system that stands up for what you believe in which may permit you to take this issue off the table when you are engaging in your relationship with the sibling you love.
posted by jph at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2012

If your sibling has a well-developed set of ethics, I doubt you have too much to worry about. I worked for a law firm for a while, that represented large investment firms and insurance companies. As it happens, a lot of the best opportunities in my field are in finance and actuarial work. I was studying for the actuarial exams at the time. Six months at that law firm turned me right around, and now I have started building up skills so that I can work in a different, less fraught branch of my field.

So I'd urge you to give your sibling a little credit -- if those companies are really as obviously evil as you feel they are, he or she will figure that out on his or her own eventually. And yes, I am sure there are investment firms and insurance companies that are not mustachio-twiddling, monocle-wearing architects of misery, and similarly, I am sure your sibling could do advertising work for a company that does more good than bad. Charities, non-profits, local businesses, these places need advertising, too.
posted by Arethusa at 10:22 AM on January 27, 2012

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