Most everyone knows what it’s like to fight with a sibling and can easily recall a time in your relationship when fighting seemed to be all the two of you ever did. For my sister and I, it was about middle school/high school age when our immaturity had reached its high, resulting in unending battles over clothes, bathroom time in the morning, and who got to use the car we shared. We seemed to fight over just about everything. Maybe it was the hormones, but considering our little over two-year age difference, it seemed like every phase I was coming out of, she was entering.
My sister and I have similar taste in both clothing and shoes, which is convenient since we’re about the same size. For all of you who have a sister know this is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I now have twice as many options, but it goes both ways. She now has unlimited access to my closet too, which my sister certainly isn’t shy about. A typical fight of ours might sound something like this:
Me: “Hey, can I wear that blue dress to Amanda’s graduation party Saturday? It would go really well with my new shoes.”
My sister: “Oh my god. Why do you need to wear one of my dresses? Don’t you have any of your own to wear?”
Me: “Well, the two dresses I do own are at the bottom of someone’s hamper from last weekend.”
My sister: *Silence*
Me: “Well remember you said you wanted frozen yogurt the other night… If you let me borrow your blue dress, I’ll take you after work tomorrow!”
My sister: “Well that dress is new and I’ve only worn it once so far! Don’t need you ruining it.”
Me: “God! You always do this. The next time you want to borrow any of my things, it’ll be a no.”
My sister: *Rolls her eyes*
Me: “I don’t want to have to do this… but I know about last Friday…”
My sister: “You wouldn’t… You better not say anything to Mom and Dad.”
Now, I wouldn’t have actually said anything, but finally using one of her signature moves against her came in handy that day, as I walked away with a new blue dress to wear to our neighbor Amanda’s graduation party! However immature and petty one may think this fight is, I do have a method to my madness. Although a much more violent story, some themes in the Melian Dialogue reminded me of my sister and I.
In the Melian Dialogue, the Athenians give the Melians the option to surrender immediately and spend the rest of their lives as slaves or they would suffer greatly. The Melians go through a process of negotiations with the Athenians before reaching their final verdict: brute force. In doing so, the Melians demonstrate an extremely popular tactic that is used in world politics everyday: the steps to actualized power. What’s the point of holding such a great amount of power if you can’t use it to get what you want?
The steps to actualize power look like this:
d) Coercion (Deter/Compel)
e) Physical/Brute Force (example 1.2)
In approaching my younger sister with the hopes of wearing her dress that weekend, as discussed in the example above, I unconsciously followed similar steps. I began with asking to borrow the dress and used some persuasion by telling her how good it would look with my new shoes. After establishing that I was in such a predicament to ask because she doesn’t do her laundry, I took it upon myself to persevere, “Well remember you said you wanted frozen yogurt the other night… If you let me borrow your blue dress, I’ll take you after work tomorrow!” My bribe lingers in the air while I wait for her to make up her mind. Not denying the opportunity for froyo, she responds with the fact that her dress is new and she’s only worn it once so far.
Being shot down twice, I let my frustration get the best of me, responding quickly with, “Well, the next time you want to borrow my things, it’ll be a no.” She shrugged the sanction off like it didn’t bother her. Regaining my composure, I decided to get my hands a little dirty, “I don’t want to have to do this, but I know about last Friday…” watching the quick wave of shock make its way across her face was priceless. As quickly as it came, it was gone and my coercion worked as she went on the defense, “You wouldn’t… You better not say anything to Mom and Dad.” Luckily, my sister and I don’t physically fight each other. So for this reason, I would consider our fifth step to actualize power to be a form of emotional harm. We’ve lived together for eighteen years, so we know what to say and how to make it hurt.
Now that our relationship has survived the test of high school (even though it was questionable for some time), we are both attending the University of Michigan and getting along better than we have in years. Although our sisterly love is at an all time high, our scuffles are recent enough that I still remember the strategies and methods we used when approaching, carrying out, and winning the fights we did have. As one can see, the strategies we use in everyday life are used by politicians and leaders alike. The rationality in our decision-making leads us to acquire what we want, but to do so in such a way as to start with things that will result in the least amount of damage to ourselves and others.