My Rationalization

Genesis 37

26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.”

The story of Joseph and his brothers is pretty ridiculous. These are some incredibly petty guys! Yes, Joseph is their father’s favorite. Yes, he had dreams about his brothers bowing before him (in several different forms). I’m sure all of that was super annoying. But dumping him in a well and contemplating his murder? Really?

Then Judah, arguably the least petty of the crew steps up and says “hey, he’s our brother! Let’s not kill him. What good is that to us? I know… let’s sell him!” Yes, I imagine the rationalization that took place in this circle of testosterone. “Look, we coulda killed him so pat on the back for us for only selling him to foreigners. Now, who wants (the Hebrew equivalent of ) ice cream?”

At least we didn’t kill him! At least I didn’t steal! At least I didn’t lie! At least no one got hurt! I’m not nearly as bad as _______________. It’s amazing how easy it can become to rationalize bad behavior by comparing it to what we consider to be worse. We’ve created for ourselves a sliding scale of evil and as long as we’re not on the far end of that scale then all is well. I sometimes think that is the sole purpose of the villain role in our culture, to make us feel better about our own shortcomings.

Joseph’s brothers were doing an evil thing, one from which they could have easy backpedaled. “Sorry, Joe! Didn’t mean to throw you in that well! No harm, no foul, right?” That’s not what they did. They rationalized that they weren’t doing the most evil thing and gave themselves a pass. I wonder how often we choose the lesser of two evils when the option of choosing “not evil at all” remains on the table unnoticed? How often do we choose to be not as bad as others instead of actually aiming to be good?

I think of this because there have been times in the last couple of years where I have been for others the worst case scenario. Whether real or imagined, I can feel the “at least I’m not as bad as Derrick” hanging in the air. And I would warn those people that I rationalized myself into that position of being the worst case scenario. It is indeed a slippery slope.

The challenge for me now is to not rationalize away my harmful behavior through comparison but to genuinely strive to be the best I can be. Conversely, my experience should force me into a place of grace and compassion for others who have been the worst case scenario. Their is a thin line between those who would sell their brothers and those who would kill them. It’s best to not pretend that we aren’t all one in the same.



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