Respect Each Other

Reannah Sanglay writes a heartfelt opinion piece about family life and the need to step back and reflect on where we come from to determine how we move forward.


Reannah Sanglay, Writer

Two whole summers have passed since my little brother and I had actually talked. For every time we’d make the slightest bit of contact–from a single “where’s the vacuum?” to “tell mom I’ll be home late”–a fight would follow. There was a time where this could be called a classic “sibling rivalry.” But there comes a point where rivalry turns into resentment, and resentment turns into hostility. And it was approximately two summers ago when we reached that point, eventually deciding never to talk again, for fear of something already awful becoming something detrimentally worse. Two summers ago, we mutually disowned each other as siblings. Now, what’s worse than mourning the loss of someone that’s still alive?

On the surface, the self-proclaimed therapist would call this article “dramatic.” Maybe they’d go further and call this article “immature.” But, self-proclaimed therapist, I urge you to get over yourself and listen to what I have to say. What I have to say goes beyond teenage angst, some teenage misconception of “simple conflict.” What I have to say is something that I’ve recently found many others have gone through as well. What I have to say is something that others will continue to go through, as long as this message remains unheard. 

Honor the bond between you and your siblings. Honor the bond between you and your family, if you are so lucky as to have one at all. Grow together. Respect each other. Family is supposed to be the greatest bond that exists. So what the hell is with all of this “falling apart?”

Being surrounded by all of this holiday festivity last month, I can’t help but feel sentimental for a time when my brother and I would devise plans to catch Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. We did everything together, bonded like covalent bonds that never seemed to separate. He was a part of me once, teaching me lessons I was never able to teach myself. To this day, I am a shy, silent introvert, but I am fully aware that it is because of him that I am not socially inept. He was my best friend growing up, always pushing me out of my shell. But he’s sixteen now, I’m seventeen. We’d always been one year apart, so it would make sense for us to have grown up in sync. For at least eight years, we did. We bonded through kung-fu–a martial art that we grew to love together–but a passion that we would use against each other in the years to come. It was for this mutual passion that we grew so close. But it was this passion that would come to separate us when the screaming, yelling, and dysfunction began. 

My brother and I were equals once, until we weren’t. I was one year older, he was a boy. Then came self-entitlement: feelings of entitlement for a general authority over the other, leading us to fight. The battle stemmed from feelings of superiority, but the questions were always the same. How do we define this desire to be superior? Where does it come from? Does it come from our age, or from our gender? How is this fair? Is this a competition? Do I win when I establish your inferiority over mine, and how far will it go?

So we were equals once, until we decided that we weren’t. Growing up in the Philippines (we were born there), it was expected for younger siblings to call older siblings “Ate” [sister] or “Kuya” [brother] as a sign of respect. It was like that once until it wasn’t. Entitlement rolled in, and somehow that respect between my little brother and I just vanished. The sweet, innocent boy that once introduced me to his friends as “Ate Reannah,”–it wasn’t like that anymore. He began to call me by my middle name, just as my parents had done for all of my life. But my parents are my parents. They’re my authoritative parentals. My brother is my brother. My little brother is my little brother.

Soon, thereafter, there arose this unspoken battle for the assertion of dominance, and it was through this battle that these fights became more intense. 

We did not treat each other as we should have. I realized very soon after that we should have treated each other better. Instead, we lost our respect for each other, and that, on its own, was tragic enough. But this loss of respect came with the loss of boundaries, and unfortunately for us, this loss of boundaries came with the loss of each other. You don’t really think about the concept of respect when it comes to your relationship with your siblings. You don’t think about how much it holds you together, how much it matters. But it is this respect that makes a family family. Without it, you’re just a bunch of people with the same DNA.

So, growing up with two brothers–one four years older, and one younger by one–it is important to note that it is in my nature to never be reluctant when it comes to getting physical. This, combined with our shared passion for the martial arts, would come to be amplified as the years came along. There was a period of time where we would wrestle, take each other down, and play fight, to a point where we knew we had to stop. But as we grew up, and the fights became more intense, the boundaries became thinner and thinner. Verbal arguments became physical takedowns, sweeps, and basic joint manipulation. This didn’t mean much at the time, for we had already been used physical fights via martial arts. But these fights, then, weren’t sport. They were general resentment, and that was the difference. We hurt each other. But it wasn’t just emotionally, verbally, or mentally now. We fought in the living room, and we fought on the front lawn. We fought in public places, and we fought in the car. There was no peace. There was no respect.

Family dinners were ruined by more than just bickering: we threw things, challenged each other to actual fights. We were, and are, like that; we just don’t back down. The day of my mom’s birthday dinner was the worst of them all. We made my mom cry. And it’s a pretty universally known idea that one of the worst things in the world is watching your mom cry. But when you’re the reason for her crying, you feel that a little more. You feel a certain shame that’s supposed to consume you. It’s supposed to consume you to a point where you’re supposed to stop. But for us, we didn’t stop. We just don’t stop. We keep going until plates are shattered, doors are slammed. It was the worst night of my life. And that night–that was the night we decided never to speak to each other ever again. That night–that night was the worst night of my life.

So it’s been two summers since I’ve last spoken to my little brother. I can lie and say that it’s fine, that he deserves it, or that it’s better this way. But it’s not fine. That boy is my little brother, the boy that at one point, was my best friend. That boy was a part of me once, and now I can barely imagine even knowing him when I’m thirty. It’s the kind of conflict that was built up over time, feeling endless. It’s been two whole summers since I’ve last spoken to my little brother, and I’m supposed to hate him enough to pretend that he doesn’t exist. But how am I supposed to hate my brother when I don’t even know him anymore? It’s been so long, how can you hate a stranger? But that’s my experience, and I don’t want it to be yours. Love each other, and respect each other. Don’t let it get this bad. Be better.