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The question

My husband and I are in our late 20s and have always been "old" for our age. We got good jobs, married at 23 and bought a house. However, with that has come self-righteousness. Now that our friends and siblings are catching up to us with their life events, we find ourselves getting more opinionated about the poor choices they are making. "How can someone so brilliant marry such a halfwit? That would be like Einstein marrying Snooki." Or: "What a selfish move for her to get knocked up when she's the carrier of a debilitating genetic disease?" I'm aware that our attitudes aren't fair or proper, and I've been maintaining a policy of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." But it winds up with me not talking to these people. Any pointers on how to socialize with our nearest and dearest?

The answer

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First of all, may I say that embedded in your question is a decent idea for a reality show: Hologram of Einstein marries Snooki and low jinks ensue – e.g. Einstein, shouting over the music at a crowded club, tries to explain unified field theory to a shirtless Mike (The Situation) Sorrentino, who splashes vodka on him from a red plastic cup. Later on, Einstein and The Situation get into a shoving match over who is the father of Snooki's eerily orange offspring. On the one hand, its hair is a wild rat's nest and it's strangely smart; on the other, it was born with six-pack abs.

Reality-show producers: You're welcome.

Okay, enough cracking wise. On to the advice.

Which is, basically: Do not allow yourself to fall prey to the sin of hubris, friends.

It's a central tenet of Damage Control: Hubris will turn you into an Icarus, flapping your melting wings as you plummet to the cornfields, before you can say, "Outplacement counsellor? Why would I of all people need to see an outplacement counsellor?"

So, things are going well for you at the moment. Congratulations! And may it ever be thus. May you never feel Fortune's fickle finger giving you a surprise rectal examination.

But even if everything goes swimmingly and you leap from triumph to triumph, success to success, even if life is all "signing autographs, tears and laughs, Champagne, caviar and bubble baths," and your biggest problem is which car to drive to the premiere, your Benz or your other Benz or your other other Benz – well, smugness is not a good quality.

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Humility is the mother and father of all other virtues, IMHO. Without it, no matter what (you think) you got, you got nothing.

It doesn't matter what a hot shot you (think you) are. Take Wayne Gretzky. All his life people called him the Great One, yet he manages to stay pretty humble, it seems. Do people call you and your husband the Great Ones? I thought not. If Wayne Gretzky can remain humble about his accomplishments, so can you.

And me, I get superstitious. If I start going around telling people or even just thinking, "Damn, I'm cool, things are going great, I'm really scoring," I picture God sitting at His desk, brows knitting ominously, thinking: "Hmm, that Dave's getting kind of big for his britches. Maybe he needs a little love tap to remind him who's in charge around here." Then He starts polishing a thunderbolt that has "For Dave – near future" printed on the side.

And, you know, making mistakes in life isn't all bad. Some day, I want to write a book called Failure: The Key to Success. Ask any hot/big shot, e.g. Steve Jobs or the aforementioned Einstein, and he'll tell you: Making mistakes, screwing up and hitting rock bottom can lead to some of a person's greatest breakthroughs.

So let's curb the hubris, soft-pedal the self-righteousness and try to show a little compassion for the struggles and challenges faced by those around us.

It's not a question of thinking you're better than others and holding your tongue; it's knowing you're not better than others. Sometimes we have to work at being humble.

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If it helps, study the Desert Fathers, early Christian hermits who retreated to the desert with the sole purpose of cultivating humility. As historian Helen Waddell writes: "It was their humility, their gentleness, their heartbreaking courtesy that was the seal of their sanctity to their contemporaries."

And hey, if you're doing so much better than your peers, why not lend them a helping hand, encourage and assist them, rather than sitting around on your duff ripping the inferior beings around you a new one? Clearly, you have the energy. Also, it will be good karma for you – karma you may sorely need some day, despite whatever you may think in your ripe "old" 20s.

David Eddie is the author of Damage Control, the book

I've made a huge mistake

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