The Rules of Brotherly Conflict

I remember growing up that my brother and I fought quite a bit. Being two young boys, this fighting included both verbal and physical abuse of each other and continued unchecked often relatively unmercifully. Most people would consider that a bad thing, I suppose, but I remember it being simply something we did – like taking out the trash, eating dinner, mowing the lawn. If we went more than two to three days without having a fight, both of us felt like there was something missing and one of us would commence thumping on the other until he fought back and the ritual was completed. Afterwards (depending on the severity of the argument that began the fight and the degree of pain felt afterwards) we would sit (or lay) on the ground, breathing hard and feeling like we’d completed or accomplished something.

There were, however, very strict rules to this fighting. Neither of us knew where these rules came from but somehow we both knew the entire set comprehensively and became quite angry with each other if we happened to wander outside the established set and kick each other in the face or fart on one another’s head.

The rules seem to me to have been an outcropping of the kind of violent “fairness” that only two young brothers that were quite fond of each other despite their constant need to pummel one another into the ground could have come up with and maintained. They existed to preserve the balance of the invisible force of “fairness” between the two of us, but generally simply served to perpetuate the fighting and imbalances perceived by us both. The rules were relatively simple (except for the times that they were temporarily modified to accommodate the exclusion of an activity that one of us didn’t feel was fair on that day – for whatever reason) and consisted of a few fairly specific directives:

Rule #1: No blows to the face

This was the most important rule, similar to the “thou shalt not kill” of our little set of fighting commandments. If a blow was inadvertently delivered to the face the fight immediately stopped to provide time for the two participants to realize that a major rule had been broken, and was generally followed by a quick set of fairly genuine apologies to be given by the perpetrator.

The other boy’s recourse was always 1.a) to become very angry and resume the fight, taking advantage of the fact that the perpetrator knew his wrongdoing and of course taking the opportunity to deliver an earned punch as hard as he could, delivered to any region of the body not forbidden by The Rules; or 1.b) become sullen and pretend to be extremely emotionally hurt by his brother’s obvious lack of respect for the sacred fighting rules which govern a great deal of their interacting behavior.

As you may have guessed, avenue 1.a was the most often taken – and 1.b was reserved for such times when the victim could use the event against his brother in a court of parental law. This makeshift judicial system very frequently tried and convicted the perpetrator in less than twenty seconds, without any representation other than himself (which was often frustratingly and inarticulately put forth to the tune of: “but Mooooooom, he started it…”). Consequently, both avenues were generally abused by the victim by either exploiting his “right to a fair punch” by punching too hard (which was almost always the case) or by unfairly exaggerating the evidence to the judge, swaying the decision of the court further in his favor. This invariably lead to another imbalance in the “fairness” force; causing the perpetrator to feel he was wronged and therefore owed the other an uncontested square punch in the shoulder to make things right again. This of course was fodder for another fight, another day, and generally started the whole business over again.

Rule #2: No blows to the kidneys, balls, knees, feet, neck, and any other part that seemed like one could do actual physical damage to the other

As strange as it seems, even though we were intent on harming the other, neither of us were anywhere near the level of contempt or hostility necessary to actually want to harm the other in any “real” way, i.e. by breaking bones or causing (visible) bruises, scars or any such permanent marking.

The recourse here was similar to those for rule #1: the victim was given a limited set of “special rights” to try to restore balance to the “fairness” that hovered well-metered between the two participants. Of course, the perception of just how far those special rights extended generally varied quite significantly between the perpetrator and the victim – ultimately acting as cause itself for another fight, another time.

Rule #3: Blows must be delivered with equal force

Serving as by far the most continuous cause for argument, this rule was also the most frequently broken. For some reason, neither of us ever really understood the dynamics of perception – and as a result, always considered the blow received to be much greater in force than the one dealt. The recourse here was simple: strike again to balance the “fairness.” Somehow the other brother would never quite see it the same way, and consider the conclusory return strike the beginning of a new sequence of paired blows.

He would therefore take advantage of what he considered his right and strike back (probably harder than before) to make things “even.” Et cetera. I think you can see where this leads.

There were, of course, other rules – but these were cause for the most continuous fighting. We have since grown up a bit and no longer fight in the same way (or really at all anymore, a shame). We now live in the same apartment and get along very well, which is probably more due to the influence of our better halves (my fiance and his girlfriend) than our own presumed maturity.