Dear Mitchell

Dearest brother Mitchell.


I mean to tell you that your selfishness and stupidity knows no bounds. Here’s a picture of us when we were young — who’d have thought one of us would grow up to be such a narcissist, such a self-serving twat. What do you mean ‘who?’


Fine then, I’ll spell it out for you. Where will I begin? At the start then, because I don’t know how much you don’t know, and I can only hope that I get something very important through to you with this letter.


So let’s see… the start. Oh yes. Well, you are second born in our family. We’re separated by two years, or to be more precise, two years and fifty-five days. At times, you seem much further behind me than that, and at others, you are charging far ahead.


How alike, and yet, unalike we are. How stupidly simple your life looks when held against mine — or perhaps, how stupidly simple I look when held against you.


We’re both intelligent, yet we’re both morons. But intelligent how?


Intelligent in the high school sense, the academic sense. In other words, the inventor of Intelligence created a game which had nothing to do with Reality, whose only reward was that, if you won it, you would be called ‘Intelligent,’ and normally at the cost of being well-adjusted to society.


The great joke of it is that, for a fleeting moment, we think that ‘intelligent’ in the school game helps you get ‘successful’ in the quote-unquote real world. But that’s just the second joke. Someone else created a game called ‘Society’ where they say the goal is to be happy, but it’s really to become ‘successful.’ The big joke is they pretend Society is the real world, that it’s Reality — yet being well-adjusted to Society tends to come at the cost of seeing and enjoying Reality.


Though few see that.


In fact Society and Reality look about as similar as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie Twins. You remember that one? They’re test tube twins, and all the good genetics go into Arnie, while all the ‘shit’ goes into DeVito. Remind you of any other set of brothers?

My oh my the games we play Mitch. But you play not the games of the world, those which might bring you profit and ‘success’. You’re not even in the game of developing people. You, being so self-centred, are more likely to play footy, soccer, or video games.


You would not play footy with me in the backyard when we were young. Because you knew I’d win, didn’t you? You, selfish you. Remember our old backyard Mitch?


A beautiful grassy field, thirty by twenty at least. If you told us as kids, living in that old house on Marsden Road, that we were ‘well-off’, we’d think you were talking about our backyard. The house was old and worn down, the cars in the garage didn’t look flashier than anyone else’s. That all came later.


Back then, it was just that backyard. I would run around it all afternoon, imagining I was playing for none other than the mighty Dragons, and it was in those moments that the rest of the world ceased to exist. It was just me and my dreams. I’d score, putting the ball down between the lemon tree and the mandarin tree. Remember those trees? The fruit always looked rotten, so we didn’t eat it, but we did find a good use for it — you’d lob lemons at me, and I’d smash them into a million pieces with the cricket bat.


Did you ever see butterflies out there Mitch?


It’s a funny world, this little rock we inhabit. I’m telling you because you don’t spend much time out there. There’s these things called butterflies see, and everyone admires their beauty. You probably saw these butterflies, probably sat and enjoyed their beauty all day without knowing what they were called… idiot. Allow me to educate you.


A butterfly is not born a butterfly. It’s born as this smaller thing called a caterpillar, and caterpillars can’t fly. Caterpillars can turn into moths, or they can turn into butterflies. They go into a cocoon see, and when they emerge they’ll be one or the other. Either an ugly thing that flies, or a beautiful thing that flies.


Did you ever wonder about the caterpillars stuck in their cocoons Mitch? No, didn’t care for them did you? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. That’s the sick world we live in — everyone wants the beautiful butterflies, not the caterpillars. Why doesn’t anyone care about the caterpillars Mitch? I can’t figure out why.


Maybe they lack ambition. Mitch, we were both ‘intelligent’ but I grabbed all the ambition in the womb. Hey, you can’t call me selfish! I offered you your fair share, don’t you remember? ‘No, it’s fine,’ you said, ‘You’ll be the oldest, you’ll need it.’ So I rushed out into the world, and you meandered along two years later, taking your sweet time.


They say ‘the way you do one thing is the way you do everything’. I wonder if that’s true.


Do you remember what happened next? We both made enough friends, we both became likable enough. Though I, unlike you, put a lot of effort into being liked. How do you think I got all those leadership positions? Being liked was quite pleasant — it was so often a reprieve from those long, never-ending episodes of loneliness and insecurity.


Then there’s you. Putting no effort in at all, never really being bothered, never having the need for others. Effortless niceness isn’t real Mitch! Letting a quiet and peaceful demeanor endear you to everyone is cheating. People just project onto you!


Mitch, people only like you because they have no reason to dislike you. You never tell them what to do, never hold a strong opinion, never give advice… nothing!


Don’t worry, I see the real you. You’re nice to everyone out there, see… but when I try to help you open a can of sardines (all because you somehow broke your wrist playing soccer), you tell me off. ‘Don’t be sorry,’ you say, ‘be better.’


To think one of the Wehbe boys would grow up to become so two-sided.


I know you later realised the joys of the simple life, but so did I. I earned it after trying everything else — but I didn’t stop there. Instead of hoarding it for myself like you did, I wrote about it to share it with others. ‘The Minimum Viable Lifestyle’ I called it. I learnt that after going to Nepal… you no doubt remember Nepal. We lasted about three days there, that first time we went together and got food poisoning. Poor Nick, some say he’s still cleaning our vomit off the floor.


I was there to change the world — I know, I know, changing the world is baloney and unethical. Quite a shame really, it would have been perfectly nice to go on thinking I was God’s answer to poverty, hunger, sickness, corruption and all the other evils in the world. What a learning experience, what a chance to wake up to myself.


So then I came home to develop myself through the family business… wasn’t that a bumpy ride? I thought I’d get experience, learn loads and hopefully earn a few shekels. It was a great chance to serve others, but it was mostly painful pushing and lots of desperate trying to be more than I was. It felt like I was forgetting myself.


Mitch, what does it mean when people say they want to learn? To improve? Why aren’t they content with who they are now? Are our education decisions just the outer manifestation of our inner bullshit? Why don’t you want to ‘improve’? No one can figure that one out.


Remember watching Rocky as kids? Remember Dad filming us working out, doing push ups, boxing each other and so forth? I look back at all those movies now, all those zero-to-hero tales, and wonder… is that what we’re meant to be? Why are we being told to try so hard? What’s so worthwhile about making it to the top of those steps? About fighting a few black men, then a Russian? Why isn’t Rocky fighting another white fella in those films?


I guess people search the outer world for what they can’t find inside.


Real estate and property wasn’t the real me, it wasn’t enough. Mitch, I wanted to help people. I could see things that other people couldn’t see. Why was society looking for the answer? Couldn’t they see me? I was standing there with my hands up, jumping on the spot, being nice to and pleasing everyone, impressing them with my wide array of talents!


A wise man once told me I had ‘the greatest inferiority-superiority complex’ he’d ever seen. I think that was a compliment! It’s so wonderful to be appreciated as the greatest.


Then COVID hits. While you sit on your hairy little ass watching butterflies, I set out to bite into the education problem. Mitch, if everyone was like you, if all they did was sit on the sidelines, the world would go on being the miserable mess it’s always been. That’s why I had to create more people like me.


I couldn’t let the caterpillars turn into moths.


It started out great. I was meeting great people, then writing and thinking all the time. But as I went deeper I found people didn’t appreciate my sacrifice. ‘I’m becoming miserable so you can have better lives, why don’t you appreciate it!?’ I started thinking to myself. Thoughts like ‘Why aren’t you listening to me?’ and ‘You’ll regret this!’ popped-up too. I asked my friends if they had the same thoughts, and they nodded along.


That many people can’t be crazy, can they? I wonder if birds of a feather really do flock together, helping to reinforce one another, flying so far above the ground they can no longer see it.


Turns out it’s impossible to set out to destroy something without becoming it in a new way. Try too hard to burst one bubble, you just create another — and a better disguised one at that. Reminds me of Harry Potter, of Frodo and the ring, of Jon Snow… of pretty much every hero’s dilemma in every film, story and TV show we cherished together growing up.


I sure wish someone had warned me. But would I have listened?


Don’t you get smug now Mitch. Don’t pretend you knew better than to try teaching others, to try showing them the light. You never thought you knew more than them see, that’s why you didn’t try! I think you needed confidence, or motivation. ‘Don’t be sorry, be better,’ as you would say.


Me on the other hand… I created a whole stack of complicated bullshit to sell to people and then saw through that bullshit. Now that’s impressive.


Don’t worry, now I’m back where I started… writing, thinking, reflecting… being. Once again, I had over-complicated it, and set out to find what I already possessed. I know you have no need for my 200 blog posts or 260 podcast episodes, but that’s because you’re so darned lazy and self-centred. Damn you for not needing my material Mitchell. Damn you for living that way already, without my brotherly guidance.


‘Live Fully Now!’ I proclaim in the kitchen over a morning avocado, and you look at me with that confused look, those crunchy eyebrows. ‘What else would you be doing?’ — far out Mitch. You just don’t get it.


Do you understand that I can do more good by just being me, than actually setting out to do good? That I can say more by not saying much at all? Hmm… how to explain this to you, a non-ambitious simpleton… I’m trying to say that I can be more of a positive influence by being an example, than by trying to preach all the time, or by giving into society’s bubble of how I’m expected to behave.


What… are you gong to make me say it? Fine… being a bit more like you. ********


While I was thinking thirty years ahead, you have only been thinking thirty minutes ahead. I know because I once asked you, ‘Mitchell, what are the typical thoughts that run through your head during the day?’ And you gave me an hour-by-hour account of your day. No wonder you don’t know who Eckhart Tolle is. I try explaining him to you and you look at me like I’m trying to sell you bat poo. ‘I don’t get it,’ you say, ‘can’t you guys figure out life for yourselves?’


You wouldn’t say that if you read serious books like I used to. You’re lucky to have me — for while you’re busy living it all by default, I know the theory behind it! I used to read two books a week, while you only ever read silly fiction books — especially Harry Potter. How many times did you read it as a kid, eight? Nine? Ten? And Mum thought there was something wrong with you.


Turns out Harry Potter is pretty bloody sage.


Now I read Harry Potter and find it more useful than most of the serious books I read. And it was there all along, sitting innocently on your shelf. Never thought to point that out to me, did you Mitch!


Don’t Try it says on Charles Bukowski’s tombstone. It took him half a lifetime to learn that — took you nowhere near as long. ‘The one who tries, is the one who dies,’ you once proclaimed in the kitchen. How dark your sense of humor is. I can’t unsee that now — everywhere in the world around me. People trying to become more. Trying… trying… forever trying. Trying… trying… they can’t stop.


And the ones trying hardest are the ones telling everyone else to try. How funny is that? The last people we should be listening to, are the first people we listen to. The sick people are taking guidance from the only people who are sicker than they are.


You have to wade further into the swamp to hear their solutions for getting out of the swamp. Yep, that makes sense.


‘Just Be,’ says Gilly. You’ve never met Gilly, never heard him speak those famous words, yet from where I stand, it seems you’ve ‘Just Been’ for a very, very long time.


Dear Mitchell… when we played in the backyard as kids, when we read those stories of good triumphing over evil, we never suspected that one of us would head down the path of the villain.


I went very far down that path Mitch. The cancer of narcissism had spread fast and far in me.


Knew how to disguise it didn’t I? Even from myself. Soft but insistent, courteous but controlling, humble but entitled, generous but demanding. Stirring the flame of ambition in society — because that’s what the world needs! An insatiable, incurable hunger — to deepen the void that can’t be filled. Because the deeper the void, the more they’ll need people like me — the Saviours.


Didn’t stop to think, did I? If everyone followed my example, we’d have a world full of miserable people all trying to change it, all so that someone else would be the one to enjoy it. And yet, I was hypocrite enough to critique the sacrificing parent — the one that puts conditions and pressure on their child’s happiness. The parent that says, ‘I gave up my happiness so you could have yours — now go an be happy, or else.’


Do they mean happy, Mitch? Or do they mean ‘Intelligent’? Or do they mean ‘Successful’? It’s hard to tell what people mean when they say ‘Happy.’


Dear Mitchell… if I apologise for all the things I’ve done… will anyone believe me? Will anyone understand? It doesn’t matter. Cancers don’t normally show symptoms until it’s too late, and this one has really extended its roots. Nothing is more dangerous than telling myself I’m cured, because the chances are so high it will come back anyway, and I can’t afford to miss the early warning signs again.


I know what they’ll say… ‘you’re being too hard on yourself,’ and ‘it’s hindsight.’ Would be nice, wouldn’t it, if that were true? Funny, that those who accept my account appear the most pure, and those who resist it, or struggle to understand it, are those I suspect of having a similar affliction.


I couldn’t have imagined the extent of the illness, sure, but I definitely saw the symptoms. And I left them untreated. I guess that’s my cross to carry now.


Yet what a gift it is, to have suffered in this way. I get to see where it all comes from now — all the pain in the world. All the people like me, who won’t accept that they already have everything.


You know what I finally realised? The caterpillar is already on its journey. It is making its own way, and in its own time it will become whatever it means to become. Some part of it, some deep and secret part of it, decides between moth and butterfly. And that’s always been true. The problem is that no one will leave it be.


There was I. I saw myself as a butterfly trying to save all the caterpillars, trying to free them from their cocoons, so they could fly high like me. But I was no butterfly — I was just back in my cocoon and wanting to believe I’d broken free.


Don’t you get it Mitch? It’s people like me who cause the trouble we say we want vanquished from the world! We, and we alone, are the ones interfering at magnitude. If only we could let things be. But we don’t. We can’t. We’re addicted. We need to interfere to uphold the story we have of ourselves.


There’s a stubborn caterpillar in the garden. He’s trying to save everyone. He goes around, poking cocoon after cocoon, celebrating each time when he sees a butterfly thing fly a few inches into the air. He turns away to go to the next cocoon, and while he turns, the ones he’s freed fall. But he doesn’t see it. He’s too busy trying to save more.


The ones who don’t die from the fall, given a taste of flying they hope to recapture, now chase after him. They start poking cocoons too. And on it goes.


If a real butterfly comes along and tries to stop them, all that happens is that the butterfly turns back into a caterpillar itself — and any plea it makes or information it gives just prompts these stubborn caterpillars to pick up the pace, to poke even more.


Maybe it really is the Truman Show, Mitch. Maybe the whole thing is a bloody bubble, and everyone is pushing you to stay inside, to go along with their story, to feed the drama they need to play out. But Mitch, I don’t want to be in the bubble anymore. I don’t want to play along. They can have their game.


At least in the games you play there is no dabbling with real people’s lives. But in the games of business and career, people become chess pieces. May the powers above have mercy on me for gambling with the lives of those dear to me.


I hope this letter warns people like you Mitch. All I want to say is this — you’re already a butterfly — and almost every person of authority is dragging you back to the cocoon. Such are the dangerous fools who presume to know.


To think that one of the boys who used to play in that big backyard in Marsden Road, who sat in Church on Sundays and always did his homework, could grow up to be so self-centred. Well, it does not do to dwell — that is that for now. We learn, and we move on. There’s a whole lot of living to be done, and I’m sick of wasting time.


It turns out you were right Mitch, though you didn’t know it. You were just being yourself. What I mean is, you didn’t need to know what a butterfly was called to appreciate its beauty.


If you just look around at the butterflies Mitch, if you just stay back and watch them, and marvel at their beauty, you learn to leave them be. And then the most curious thing happens… everything you ever complained or worried about just slips away…


I’ve come to believe that this, and this alone, is the path to freedom. But heck, I’ve been wrong before.


Anyway, enough touchy-feely. We don’t have that kind of relationship and you’ve never even picked up a self-help book. Enough over-analysis! Once we feel good, I mean deeply good, what’s the point? As Luke says, the validation for ‘living fully now’ is in the experience of it.


That’s how I feel most of the time now Mitch — I’m enjoying just writing all day, taking long walks, avoiding bullshit and business for ego’s sake, and I’m at my most productive when I’m at my laziest. The world is weird like that.


No, let’s not over-think any more. Let’s just laugh like we normally do together. Oh, by the way, another thing I wanted to say in this letter — dinner is ready. I’ve cooked stir-fry and beetroot salad. Nope, just kidding, there I go again trying to doll things up. I re-heated dumplings. That’s it.


If you wanted salad, or anything else with it… well, you should have organised that yourself.


Come up when you’re ready, or perhaps, not even at all. Oscar is here. We’ll shoot the shit a bit and re-watch The Office as we eat and laugh another lovely night away, just as we always do. What more could a young man want?


Funny isn’t it, that once upon a time this didn’t feel like enough. But Mitch, what they call everything, I call nothing, and what they call nothing, I call everything.


Lots of love — Joey.


For more context feel free to check out episode 266 of the With Joe Wehbe Podcast on ‘My Unhealthy Ambition,’ which goes deeper into mistakes made and lessons learnt on the Constant Student Journey, and the grappling with ego and narcissism. 


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