Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Art of Diplomacy

You always hear about diplomatic talks, relations, and meetings between countries. And you always see the news reporters at exotic locations saying things like, "I'm here, Bob, at the G Minus 10 Summit where the Rhapsodians and YipYaps are having [pause for drama] diplomatic talks." But when I found out the meaning of diplomacy, it hit me like a 2x4 across the forehead. I'd been practicing diplomacy for years with my sisters!
I'm not sure when it started but I've always referred to my childhood sibling rivalry as the Eastern Carolina Contra-Affair Incident (or ECCAI). And I was young. I do wonder what my childhood would have been like without the ECCAI.
I can imagine my immediate family sitting down to a quiet supper and me turning to my older sister and inquiring, "Dearest Katie, might you please pass the salt?" "Why of course dear brother!" "Thank you kindly," and then turning to my younger sister and asking, "Dearest Hope, I would like another biscuit. Might you pass one?" "Why, certainly." I would then take a big bite of the biscuit, smile, and turn to mother and father and cry, "O mother! O father! I am quite content and happy in this harmonious familial relationship!" Mother would turn to father, after taking a sip of her chardonnay, and say, "What sweet little cherubs!"
But I think if that happened, I'd be the type of guy who plays badminton in his spare time and says things like "Gosh darnit! That kid forgot to double bag the produce again! Why, I've a mind to drive down to the store right now and give him a stern talking to!" In other words, I'd be the type of guy who makes me puke.
In reality, family dinners went something like this:
"Quit staring at my food, Katie" "Quit being ugly, Trey." I'd kick her from underneath the table, usually miss, and kick the shin of my youngest sister who would demonstrate her displeasure at my poor aim by screaming like a banshee and attempt to gnaw off my leg. I was never able to put that feeling in words, but I came pretty close with "AAAAYEEEAAAAAAGAAAAAUUUUGGGGH!" My mother would interject at this point with "YOU CHILDREN STOP THAT RIGHT NOW AND EAT YOUR SUPPER!" while my father would watch the whole thing with detached amusement and wonder if his meals would be quieter if he and my mother had opted for two dogs instead of three little children.

But here is where I truly learned diplomacy. I'd finish my meal, hunched over my plate and guarding my food like a hardened convict in the clink, glowering, thinking horrible thoughts that only a 7 year old's mind could think: "Batface...Butthead...Major Dinglehopper...I hope she scrapes her knee and gets sent to the principal's office tomorrow."
I'd opt to finish my battles later at my convenience while maintaining a somewhat neutral stance at the immediate time. I would have my revenge later. Under the cover of darkness I would conduct night raids, sprinting out at top speed into Katie's room, giving her a pillow across the face at full force. I'd deftly evade capture and egress back to my forward operating base. When the mediator, my mother, would arrive, I'd resume a diplomatic stance again, and maintain that I'd been in bed the entire time and suggest that Katie had a dream that her face was on fire and was attempting to put it out by slamming her head into the pillow. Katie's account differed from mine (doesn't it always?), but who's to blame?
Dealing with my older sister was eventful enough, but I had a younger sister to deal with too. And her teeth and nails were extremely sharp. Rather than risk bodily harm, I took a more diplomatic stance and decided to undertake a PSYOPS campaign against her:
"Trey, have you seen my barbie?" "No, why?" "Well, she's missing." "Strange...Missing...like the way my cookie was missing from my plate last night after I turned my head!"
She usually took umbrage at this campaign with her teeth and nails and it's now a pasttime at family reunions to marvel at the claw-shaped scars on my forearms.
But of course, the ECCAI wasn't in full force the whole time. I'd diplomatically wrangle for ceasefires when I felt my time would be better spent erecting Legos or building forts. Unfortunately, a ceasefire between me and my sisters didn't happen concurrently with the ceasefires between them. I vividly remember sitting in my room reading, only to hear a loud banging noise and the pattering of feet. My door was flung wide open and Katie came hurtling in screeching "HIDEMEHIDEMEHIDEME!" I would nonchalantly point at the closet door and continue reading while she hid, only to be interrupted minutes later by having the door kicked in by Hope with her hair dishevelled, eyes crossed eyed, out of focus, and lips bared back into a toothy snarl. "WHERE IS SHE?!" Hope would bellow. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Right now I'm Sweden." To my embarassment, I would later find out that I meant to say Switzerland. Perhaps that's why she never believed me.
But Hope would always lumber to the door in the distinctive stance she had whenever she was on the warpath, only to have Katie bounding out of the closet door and out of the room to find some other place to hide, and the two would continue until they ran out of steam.
Do I regret learning this very physical form of diplomacy? Absolutely not. It provided a great learning experience for how much pain I could tolerate, and the value of diplomacy, which is just a fancy way of saying to smile at your sister until you're accurate enough to kick her from under the table.
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