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March 04, 2005

Sibling Rivalry

"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care..." - Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965


         Sibling rivalry is one of humanity's oldest problems. One of the first stories in the Bible (the oldest book in Western civilization, and the story of the ancient Jewish culture) deals with the rivalry between two brothers, Cain and Abel.  The older brother, Cain, was irritated at constantly having to help take care of his younger brother, Abel, and kept asking his parents:  "Am I my brother's keeper?"  The story of these two brothers has a tragic ending;  Cain becomes so angry that he kills Abel (and this, according to the Bible, was the first murder in history). The fact that this is one of the first stories within the Bible shows the great importance given to the problem of sibling rivalry within the Jewish culture


         Nowadays, most parents don't seem very concerned with the possible occurrence of this problem within their families.  In Western cultures this may in part be due to the prevalence of Christian traditions and education, in which "brotherly love" is assumed to be the "ideal" type of love.  Closely related to this problem are some of the most fundamental questions in two of the modern world's greatest religions, Judaism ("Am I my brother's keeper?") and Christianity ("Who is my neighbor?," which is to say, "Who are those that I should consider as my brothers and sisters?").

         In the Christian Gospels, Jesus and his Apostles repeatedly tell their followers to "love one another as brothers."  This repeated admonition may tend to give a certain impression that "brotherly love" is a natural condition that will come forth "by itself" whenever there are brothers or sisters within a family, and that parents don't have to do anything but relax and watch the unfolding of this wonderful "natural" phenomenon.

         This belief (in brotherly love as a natural condition) appears to overlook the fact that  Jesus and his Apostles were born into and raised within the Jewish culture, which at that time was already more than three thousand years old.  Now, one of the main objectives of Jewish traditions and culture has always been to promote the peaceful coexistence of peoples, beginning with peace and harmony within each family.  It seems likely that, after three thousand years of considering the problem of sibling rivalry (remember the story of Cain and Abel as an example of what happens when nothing is done) the Jewish people would have developed fairly effective procedures of dealing with it, so that by the time of Jesus Christ within the Jewish culture "brotherly love" was in fact synonymous with "pure and unselfish love."

         And, although it isn't particularly difficult for parents to get their children to "love one another as brothers," unfortunately the natural condition (the one that tends to happen "by itself") is the opposite one, sibling rivalry.  This is confirmed by the many examples that exist of this situation.

I know this is long but it is very interesting. Read more here...

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