The hidden power of siblings: Jeff Kluger at TEDxAsheville

The hidden power of siblings: Jeff Kluger at TEDxAsheville


Translator: TED Translators admin
Reviewer: Camille Martínez TED has already persuaded me
to change my life in one small way, by persuading me to change
the opening of my speech. I love this idea of engagement. So, when you leave here today, I’m going to ask you
to engage or re-engage with some of the most important
people in your lives: your brothers and sisters. It can be a profoundly
life-affirming thing to do, even if it isn’t always easy. This is a man named Elliot, for whom things were very difficult. Elliot was a drunk. He spent most of his life
battling alcoholism, depression, morphine addiction, and that life ended
when he was just 34 years old. What made things harder for Elliot
is that his last name was Roosevelt. And he could never quite
get past the comparisons with his big brother Teddy, for whom things always seemed
to come a little bit easier. It wasn’t easy being Bobby, either. He was also the sibling of a president. But he adored his brother, Jack. He fought for him, he worked for him. And when Jack died, he bled for him, too. In the years that followed,
Bobby would smile, but it seemed labored. He’d lose himself in his work, but it seemed tortured. Bobby’s own death, so similar to John’s, seems somehow fitting. John Kennedy was robbed of his young life; Bobby seemed almost
to have been relieved of his. There may be no relationship
that effects us more profoundly, that’s closer, finer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with woe than the relationship we have
with our brothers and sisters. There’s power in the sibling bond. There’s pageantry. There’s petulance, too, as when Neil Bush, sibling of both a president
and a governor, famously griped, “I’ve lost patience for being compared
to my older brothers,” as if Jeb and George W
were somehow responsible for the savings and loan scandal
and the messy divorce that marked Neil in the public eye. But more important
than all of these things, the sibling bond can be
a thing of abiding love. Our parents leave us too early, our spouse and our children
come along too late. Our siblings are the only ones
who are with us for the entire ride. Over the arc of decades,
there may be nothing that defines us and forms us
more powerfully than our relationship
with our sisters and brothers. It was true for me, it’s true for your children and if you have siblings,
it’s true for you, too. This picture was taken when Steve,
on the left, was eight years old. I was six, our brother Gary was five
and my brother Bruce was four. I will not say what year it was taken. It was not this year. (Laughter) I open my new book, “The Sibling Effect,” on a Saturday morning, not long before this picture was taken, when the three older brothers decided
that it might be a very good idea to lock the younger brother
in a fuse cabinet in our playroom. (Laughter) We were, believe it or not,
trying to keep him safe. Our father was a hotheaded man, somebody who didn’t take kindly
to being disturbed on Saturday mornings. I don’t know what he thought his life
would be like on Saturday mornings when he had four sons, ages four years old or younger
when the youngest one was born, but they weren’t quiet. He did not take to that well. And he would react to being
disturbed on a Saturday morning by stalking into the playroom and administering a very freewheeling
form of a corporal punishment, lashing out at whoever
was within arms’ reach. We were by no means battered children
but we did get hit, and we found it terrifying. So we devised a sort of
scatter-and-hide drill. (Laughter) As soon as we saw or heard
the footsteps coming, Steve, the oldest, would wriggle
under the couch, I would dive into the closet
in the playroom, Gary would dive into
a window-seat toy chest, but not before we closed
Bruce inside the fuse box. We told him it was
Alan Shepard’s space capsule, and that somehow made it work better. (Laughter) I dare say my father was never
fooled by this ruse. And it was only in later
years that I began to think perhaps it wasn’t a good idea
to squeeze a four-year-old up against a panel of old-style,
un-screwable high-voltage fuses. (Laughter) But my brothers and I,
even through those unhappy times, came through them, with something
that was clear and hard and fine: a primal appreciation
for the bond we shared. We were a unit — a loud, messy brawling, loyal, loving, lasting unit. We felt much stronger that way
than we ever could as individuals. And we knew that as our lives went on, we could always be able
to call on that strength. We’re not alone. Until 15 years ago, scientists didn’t really pay much
attention to the sibling bond. And with good reason: you have just one mother,
you have just one father if you do marriage right,
you have one spouse for life. Siblings can claim
none of that uniqueness. They’re interchangeable, fungible,
a kind of household commodity. Parents set up shop and begin stocking
their shelves with inventory, the only limitation being sperm,
egg and economics. (Laughter) As long as you can keep breathing,
you may as well keep stocking. Now, nature is perfectly happy
with that arrangement, because our primal directive here is to get as many of our genes
as possible into the next generation. Animals wrestle with
these same issues, too, but they have a more straightforward way
of dealing with things. A crested penguin that has laid two eggs
will take a good look at them and boot the smaller one out of the nest, the better to focus her attentions
on the presumably heartier chick in the bigger shell. A black eagle will allow
all of her chicks to hatch and then stand back while the bigger ones
fight it out with the little ones, typically ripping them to ribbons and then settling back
to grow up in peace. Piglets, cute as they are, are born with a strange
little outward set of pointing teeth, that they use to jab at one another as they compete
for the choicest nursing spots. The problem for scientists was that this whole idea of siblings
as second-class citizens never really seemed to hold up. After the researchers
had learned all they could from the relationships in the family,
mothers and other relationships, they still came up with some
temperamental dark matter that was pulling at us, exerting a gravity all its own. And that could only be our siblings. Humans are no different from animals. After we are born, we do whatever we can to attract the attention of our parents, determining what our strongest
selling points are and marketing them ferociously. Someone’s the funny one,
someone’s the pretty one, someone’s the athlete,
someone’s the smart one. Scientists call this “deidentification.” If my older brother
is a high-school football player — which, if you saw my older
brother, you’d know he was not — I could become a high-school
football player, too and get at most 50 percent of the applause
in my family for doing that. Or, I could become student
council president or specialize in the arts and get 100 percent
of the attention in that area. Sometimes parents contaminate
the deidentification process, communicating to their kids subtly or not, that only certain kinds of accomplishments
will be applauded in the home. Joe Kennedy was famous for this, making it clear to his nine children that they were expected to compete
with one another in athletics and were expected to win, lest they be made to eat
in the kitchen with the help, rather than in the dining room
with the family. It’s no wonder that scrawny second-born Jack Kennedy
fought so hard to compete with his fitter firstborn brother, Joe, often at his peril, at one point, engaging
in a bicycle race around the house that resulted in a collision
costing John 28 stitches. Joe walked away essentially unharmed. Parents exacerbate this problem further when they exhibit favoritism, which they do overwhelmingly,
no matter how much they admit it. A study I cite in this TIME magazine
covering in the book “The Sibling Effect,” found 70 percent of fathers
and 65 percent of mothers exhibit a preference
for at least one child. And keep in mind here —
the keyword is “exhibit.” The remaining parents may simply be doing
a better job of concealing things. (Laughter) I like to say that 95 percent
of all parents have a favorite, five percent are lying about it. The exception is my wife and me. Honestly, we do not have a favorite. (Laughter) It’s not parents’ fault that they harbor
feelings of favoritism. And here, too, our natural
wiring is at work. Firstborns are the first products
on the familial assembly line. Parents typically get two years
of investing dollars, calories and so many other resources in them, so that by the time
the second born comes along, the firstborn is already …
it’s what corporations call “sunk costs,” you don’t want to disinvest in this one and launch the R&D on the new product. (Laughter) So what we begin to do is say,
“I’m going to lean to the Mac OS X and let the Mac OS XI come out
in a couple of years.” So we tend to lean in that direction. (Laughter) But there are other forces at work, too. One of the same studies I looked at
both here and in the book found that, improbably, the most common favorite
for a father is the last-born daughter. The most common favorite
for a mother is the firstborn son. Now, this isn’t Oedipal; never mind
what the Freudians would have told us a hundred years ago. And it’s not just that fathers
are habitually wrapped around the fingers of their little girls, though I can tell you that,
as the father of two girls, that part definitely plays a role. Rather, there is a certain
reproductive narcissism at work. Your opposite-gender kids can never resemble you exactly. But if somehow they can resemble
you temperamentally, you’ll love them all the more. As the result, the father
who is a businessman will just melt at the idea of his MBA daughter
with a tough-as-nails worldview. The mother who is a sensitive type
will go gooey over her son the poet. (Laughter) Birth order, another topic
I covered for TIME, and another topic I cover in the book, plays out in other ways as well. Long before scientists
began looking at this, parents noticed that there are
certain temperamental templates associated with all birth rankings: the serious, striving firstborn; the caught-in-a-thicket’s middle born; the wild child of a last born. And once again, when science
did crack this field, they found out mom and dad are right. Firstborns across history have tended
to be bigger and healthier than later borns, in part, because of the head start
they got on food in an area in which it could be scarce. Firstborns are also
vaccinated more reliably and tend to have more
follow-up visits to doctors when they get sick. And this pattern continues today. This IQ question is, sadly — I can
say this as a second-born — a very real thing. Firstborns have a three-point
IQ advantage over second borns and second borns have a 1.5 IQ
advantage over later borns, partly because of the exclusive attention
firstborns get from mom and dad, and partly because they get a chance
to mentor the younger kids. All of this explains why firstborns
are likelier to be CEOs, they are likelier to be senators, they are likelier to be astronauts, and they are likelier to earn more
than other kids are. Last borns come into the world
with a whole different set of challenges. The smallest and weakest cubs in the den, they’re at the greatest risk
of getting eaten alive, so they have to develop
what are called “low-power skills” — the ability to charm and disarm, to intuit what’s going on
in someone else’s head, the better to duck
the punch before it lands. (Laughter) They’re also flat-out funnier, which is another thing
that comes in handy, because a person who’s making you laugh
is a very hard person to slug. (Laughter) It’s perhaps no coincidence
that over the course of history, some of our greatest satirists — Swift, Twain, Voltaire, Colbert — (Laughter) are either the last borns or among the last in very large families. Most middle borns don’t get
quite as sweet a deal. I think of us as the flyover states. We are — (Laughter) we’re the ones who fight harder
for recognition in the home. We’re the ones who are always
raising our hands while someone else at the table
is getting called on. We’re the ones who tend
to take a little longer to find their direction in life. And there can be self-esteem
issues associated with that, notwithstanding the fact
that I’ve been asked to do TED, so I feel much better
about these things right now. (Laughter) But the upside for middle borns
is that they also tend to develop denser and richer relationships
outside the home. But that advantage comes also
from something of a disadvantage, simply because their needs
weren’t met as well in the home. The feuds in the playroom
that play out over favoritism, birth order and so many other issues are as unrelenting as they seem. In one study I cite in the book, children in the two-to-four age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes, or 9.5 fights an hour. That’s not fighting —
that’s performance art. (Laughter) That’s extraordinary. One reason for this is that there are
a lot more people in your home than you think there are, or at least a lot more relationships. Every person in your house has
a discrete one-on-one relationship with every other person, and those pairings or dyads add up fast. In a family with two parents and two kids,
there are six dyads: Mom has a relationship with child A and B, Dad has a relationship with child A and B. There’s the marital relationship, and there is the relationship
between the kids themselves. The formula for this
looks very chilly but it’s real. K equals the number of people
in your household, and X equals the number of dyads. In a five-person family,
there are ten discrete dyads. The eight-person Brady Bunch —
never mind the sweetness here — there were 28 dyads in that family. The original Kennedy family with nine kids
had 55 different relationships. And Bobby Kennedy, who grew up
to have 11 children of his own, had a household with a whopping 91 dyads. This overpopulation of relationships makes fights unavoidable. And far and away the biggest trigger
for all sibling fights is property. Studies have found that over 95 percent
of the fights among small children concern somebody touching, playing with, looking at the other person’s stuff. (Laughter) This in its own way is healthy
if it’s very noisy, and the reason is that small children
come into the world with absolutely no control. They are utterly helpless. The only way they have
of projecting their very limited power is through the objects
they can call their own. When somebody crosses
that very erasable line, they’re going to go nuts,
and that’s what happens. Another very common casus belli
among children is the idea of fairness, as any parent who hears 14 times a day,
“But that’s unfair!” can tell you. In a way this is good, too, though. Kids are born with a very innate sense
of right and wrong, of a fair deal versus an unfair one, and this teaches them powerful lessons. Do you want to know how powerfully encoded
fairness is in the human genome? We process that phenomenon through the same lobe in our brain
that processes disgust, meaning we react to the idea
of somebody being cheated the same way we react to putrefied meat. (Laughter) Any wonder that this fellow,
Bernie Madoff, is unpopular? All of these dramas played out day to day, moment to moment, serve as a real-time,
total-immersion exercise for life. Siblings teach each other conflict
avoidance and conflict resolution, when to stand up for themselves, when to stand down; they learn love, loyalty, honesty, sharing,
caring, compromise, the disclosure of secrets
and much more important, the keeping of confidences. I listen to my young daughters —
aren’t they adorable? — I listen to my young daughters
talking late into the night, the same way my parents, no doubt,
listened to my brothers and me talking, and sometimes I intervene,
but usually I don’t. They’re part of a conversation
I am not part of, nobody else in the world is part of, and it’s a conversation
that can and should go on for the rest of their lives. From this will come a sense of constancy, a sense of having a permanent
traveling companion, somebody with whom they road-tested life before they ever had to get out
and travel it on their own. Brothers and sisters aren’t
the sine qua non of a happy life; plenty of adult sibling
relationships are fatally broken and need to be abandoned
for the sanity of everybody involved. And only-children, throughout history,
have shown themselves to be creatively, brilliantly capable of getting their socialization
and comradeship skills through friends, through cousins,
through classmates. But having siblings and not
making the most of those bonds is, I believe, folly of the first order. If relationships are broken
and are fixable, fix them. If they work, make them even better. Failing to do so is a little like having
a thousand acres of fertile farmland and never planting it. Yes, you can always get your food
at the supermarket, but think what you’re
allowing to lie fallow. Life is short, it’s finite,
and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests
of the time we have here. Thank you. (Applause)

38 thoughts on “The hidden power of siblings: Jeff Kluger at TEDxAsheville

  1. I'm the eldest son out of four siblings. luckily, what he had said in this video is mostly true for my family as well. win for 3 point advantage on IQ and a greater win for having many siblings.
    i love my family

  2. All so true – birth order has been a topic in family sociology for 20 years. Add in dysfunctional parents and the tangle deepens multi-fold; parents with high Social IQ boost outcomes exponentially.

  3. Although I'm an only child, I have to agree with Kluger's point that siblings should cherish their relationship. I know too many people who break such ties, which may be necessary, but they have someone in life I will never have.

  4. Wow. First thing I did after watching this video is speaking to my sister. Though we don't get along all the time, it was a nice chat. I think if you want to be a better sister/brother you have to listen, don't just hear, Listen. and show that you care. Talk about their positives more than their negatives. after all you probably know him/her more that anyone else. and you probably have the power to make him/her a better or worse person.

  5. This topic is barely in it's infancy; it is far more complex & dynamic than this speaker himself begins to grasp. It is akin to repeating old fashioned news-paper astrology & applying it to your situation without huge complex planetary charts. Silly. Of course a few of us fit into his paradigm, but in real life there are far too many variables involved. Reality is that it is impossible to present any useful help regarding sibling issues in anything less than a huge set of better researched books

  6. true.. this is the very very basics of order.. but nothing truly about bond. i think its yet to be investigated more seriously

  7. No matter how similar you are to someone, your experience is still different and as we get older we will find our experience to be more unique. When young we had very similar experiences to our siblings and it may be the closest we have ever been to companionship but we where still alone in our experience.
    Existentially we are and will always be alone. Let's accept this rather than cling onto our siblings.

  8. This may be a good talk overall, but early he says that Bobby's Kennedy's death seemed "somehow fitting"……that he was "relieved" in his words……I'm sorry, but I consider such thoughts a gross injustice and degrading commentary of a man I feel to
    have been one of our greatest men and perhaps President to be…….what arrogance to suggest he welcomed death in a fashion……..

  9. Highly partial perspective I'm sure.
    From my own perspective first borns tend to be more like clones of their parents values and behaviors. Second borns reach outside the family group and are far less parochial. Third borns do their own thing.

  10. He says that 'we' see putrefied meat and unfairness with the same disgust – I remember hearing a speech recently that the mental processes of an American and the rest of the world are vastly different in some ways – I wonder if this is one of them?

  11. I lost my only brother three years ago suddenly, and I can attest that without him, regardless of how much we argued, life has become half-empty rather than half-full. So many inside jokes and stuff only he and I knew and shared over 44 years evaporated into thin air without warning. As his younger brother, I am today 44 we were just 2.5 years apart. I I feel what Jeff said about the Kennedy brother to be true. In many ways I not only am prepared to die sooner than later, and I have come to expect it to happen in a similar way. It somehow feels "right" that I should go out like he did… perhaps similar to the way one soldier might run out into the battlefield prepared to die after watching his best mates fall in front of him. I realize now without him I would have been a completely different person, and that when we were alive all we saw were our differences, we seemed like polar opposites, yet now that he's gone i realize there is nobody on earth who is anything like me,  that even comes close to sharing traits. Like a mirror image he was the opposite, but no different. Half of me went out that day with him for sure and growing older alone has become an extremely dark tunnel ahead I no longer look forward to and try desperately not to envision. I planned for many things and was prepared to handle pretty much all the punches life has to offer, but losing my brother Stew at 44 was beyond imaginable. It just never seemed possible. I had never considered it even as a remote possibility. To think my older big bro was younger than myself today at his oldest defies natural logic. This truly destroyed my family in so many ways, i can only thank god I had spent 10 month on my brother's couch a few years before he died so we had a chance for a few more fights and many more laughs before it was all over. RIP big bro.;

  12. What about couples that only have 1 child?  I have 2 brothers, but my daughter is an only child and now 15 years old.  Not by my choice, but because I had 2 miscarriages afterwards.  Can we please include only children in this conversation?  There are many more only children in this day and age now than ever before.  Thank you.

  13. I didn't really find this scientific enough. He should have been putting some reasearch and statistics why he has this opinion instead of just addressing to the listeners common sense or gut feeling. Though I like him somehow

  14. 🤔👎👎🌱💜🌱✌️🤔It’s for good book-sales!!This Video was made to have a good Time,but is not the truth,all siblings Life are different!I had 3 other Sisters much older as me,we have no connection,and my Junger Brother is ill,no connection,even I try a lot!This is all a Dream Story
    ,Life is different as this!!

  15. I can see those slight jealousy against youngest in his speech.
    I bet his youngest brother was his mama’s favorite 😉 lol

  16. Wonderful talk. I have a very dysfunctional family. I’m the eldest of 3 children. My sister has type 1 bipolar and my brother has moderate autism. My father has always given my sister special treatment and shunned me over trivial things. I’m the scapegoat and he always tries to pit my sister against me. I love her a lot and I wish he wouldn’t make it so hard for me to have a relationship with her. I won’t give up though and I know one day we’ll be close.

  17. I don't get why so many people have thumbs uped him but yet practically all the comments are on how bad thisted talk was.Personally i think that this is an amazing ted talk.

  18. Thank you for this amazing talk. So many insights about siblings, that I never would have considered on my own. I've shared this talk with each of my three siblings. 😉

    btw, as to the speaker and his siblings receiving 'corporal punishment' by their dad, and the speaker then adding '..we were by no means battered children'…. and then half-way joking about their hiding etc. from dad. Make no mistake. This was severely emotionally damaging to every one of those kids, however you want to define it.

    I myself am familiar with this scenario. It is one thing for a parent to hit a child for a very specific reason, in response to something very specific that the child did. It is something far, far different when a parent is clearly unable to contain their own rage, and physically lashes out at their children for no other reason than that they were children behaving like children. It is a very sad thing, when children must walk on eggshells, never knowing when their parent may decide to lash out at them.

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