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Behind the Headlines: The Sibling Rivalry Upstaging the Super Bowl

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Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events.
In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.

The headline that caught our attention: Super Sibling Rivalry

Super Bowl XLVII will go down in history not as a football game, but as a family conflict hashed out in the public arena -- sibling rivalry of Shakespearean proportions. Or so it would seem from the press coverage.

Head coaches are Harbaugh brothers John and Jim, leading opposing teams. John's Baltimore Ravens face off against kid brother Jim's San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, turning the New Orleans stadium into an awkward family function. Everyone is talking about where the parents will sit; what colours their mother and sister will wear; Cain and Abel.

As brothers who co-author columns and co-direct projects, we can relate to the interest generated by siblings working in the same arena.

With the "Harbowl" story making sibling rivalry seem like a sport in itself, the questions we're often asked are coming more frequently: How do you make joint decisions? Is there much competition? How do you keep your sanity while working with family?

A football game is one thing: your win is another's loss; it's a much more overt formula for tension. That tension is often assumed of us, but there are few ego clashes between us.

When you're a kid, sibling rivalry is pretty straightforward. Brothers fight over who gets the front seat, the bigger half, the best action figure. A sibling's tears elicit your own laughter and you're only sorry when you get caught.

Craig certainly made a sport out of annoying his older brother. And if Marc and his friends were hatching a plan to do something dangerous -- danger being a hobby for most young boys -- Craig would be the guinea pig (Craig may or may not have "fallen" down the stairs a few times). But because of a significant age gap there was only a brief interval for roughhousing. It was no contest, anyway, with Marc being six years older and a varsity rugby player.

That and we had completely different interests to keep us at a safe distance from each other. Marc played every sport he could fit into his schedule while Craig read Sci-Fi novels on the sidelines.

We know that for many young siblings, parental supervision is often the only obstacle preventing them from going all King Lear on each other. There is considerable research devoted to studying this behaviour.
Alfred Adler, a psychotherapist and Freud's contemporary, believed that conflict among kin is a competition for parental approval. Feelings of inferiority lead to what Adler called compensation -- which causes brothers and sisters to lash out or cower dejectedly.

We were struck by a contemporary theory from Abraham Tesser, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, which we heard recently on NPR. For decades, Tesser has studied subjects' reactions to the successes of close friends and siblings. His findings suggest that you're more likely to take pleasure in another's triumph if you're not particularity interested in what they're doing. Success in an area you care about, however, provokes pangs of envy.

The radio host put it this way, referring to another set of football's famous brothers, Eli and Peyton, and their older brother Cooper: "So the Manning who is a stockbroker in New York can be happy for both of his brothers."

Maybe we're anomalies, but our mutual goals have never induced conflict, even where our accomplishments (school scholarships or work accolades) were individual. If anything, Free The Children brought us closer together. Our disagreements, triumphs and tragedies are shared; they all stem from us striving for the same cause. We travel separately but talk by phone up to six times daily.

Our sibling rivalry has always been more of an external perception than an internal reality. Perhaps we're not alone in that.

The Harbaughs, for their part, have downplayed their brotherly battle in the press to focus on their teams --you know, the players hammering out rivalries who aren't necessarily related to each other.

How to be a better brother -- by Craig Kielburger

As advocates and mentors for youth, we're often asked by young siblings or parents of siblings about our relationship. Some ask conspiratorially about secret feuds. But others are wistful, wondering how Marc and I manage to remain close.

I started Free The Children when I was 12. Marc came home from university on weekends, holidays, at every opportunity -- to help me. Many times I thought we wouldn't succeed, and each of those times my big brother was there. As a Harvard grad, Marc sacrificed many other opportunities to stick with our little charity and help it grow internationally. That was a selfless act that I've always admired and it forged a bond between us. We're in this together.

So many activities for siblings are focused on rivalries -- competitive sports and video games, which are important to our formative years. But I tell parents that family philanthropy also builds strong bonds -- travelling together on a volunteer trip overseas, even driving together down to the local food bank to stock shelves. Find a common family cause. You're always on the same team.

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Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com