Preconditions for Diplomacy Between Siblings: A Visit Contract -The Toast

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The Sister acknowledges that interaction between the Brother and the Sister has degraded to the point of open hostility, and other family members (parents, siblings, cousins) are being caught in the crossfire. The Sister desires a peaceful relationship and would like to discuss terms to minimize this conflict before it escalates into a full-scale confrontation. However, negotiations in the past have devolved into diplomatic incidents and military engagement. To the end of achieving a lasting peace, the Sister sets for these preconditions for talks with the Brother.

I.  The Brother will abide by the following:

A.  The Brother will not call a woman slut, whore, ho, hussy, thot, or skank within the Sister’s hearing.

B.  The Brother will not ask about or refer to the shave or wax status of any of the Sister’s body parts including but not limited to legs, armpits, bikini line, pubis, chin, or happy trail.

C.  The Brother will not make jokes about sexual assault, sexual harassment, eating disorders, breast implants, or sex changes.

D.  The Brother will not analyze the Sister’s ability (or lack thereof) to find a husband.

E.  If discussions occur during a holiday, the Brother will not gift the Sister items that suggest she needs to work on her appearance such as razors, makeup kits, hairbrushes, or pedicure gift certificates.

F.  The Brother may discuss his love/sex life, but he will omit any references to lying to girls in order to sleep with them. He will also omit references to losing interest in girls who are too easy.

G.  The Brother will not use the term “feminist” as a pejorative.

H.  The Brother will not in any way state or imply that the Sister’s gender identity is false or badly executed.

I.  The Brother will refrain from using blatantly homophobic and racist language in the Sister’s presence.

II.  In return for this cooperation, the Sister offers to abide by the following:

A.  The Sister will not refer to the Brother as selfish or ignorant.

B.  The Sister will not compare the Brother to Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, or Glen Beck.

C.  The Sister will not predict horrible relationship success for the Brother once his prospective dating partners are out of their teens and old enough to know better.

D.  The Sister will not proxy fight with the Brother by passive-aggressively posting article links to the Brother’s social media pages.

E.  The Sister will ignore minor statements of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia when they occur outside of designated political conversations. (See Section IV)

F.  The Sister is open to considering other preconditions from the Brother on a case by case basis.

III.  Discussions about politics are often the initial trigger for larger-scale disputes. This agreement will also set up a formal structure for political conversations (PCs) between the Brother and the Sister.

A.  PCs will only occur by mutual agreement. If either the Brother or the Sister does not wish to enter into a PC, the other party will respect their wishes.

B.  There will be no PCs when the Sister has had more than two drinks and/or the Brother has had more than four. PCs are expressly forbidden when either party is under the influence of a substance other than alcohol.

C.  The duration of PCs will be limited to 20 minutes in one sitting, and the Brother and Sister may engage in no more than 3 PCs in one 24 hour period.

D.  During PCs, the Brother and the Sister will take turns speaking in one minute increments. The increments will be measured and enforced through the use of a cell phone timer.

E.  During an increment, the non-speaking party may raise their hand if they have a brief query or clarification. The speaking party is not required to acknowledge this, but if they choose to, the non-speaking party has three seconds to ask their question. Recommended query formats include “What do you mean by X?” and “I didn’t understand X.” Queries are not for argumentation, just clarification.

F. Each party must spend their last time increment summarizing the other party’s position and noting points where both parties agree. Editorializing the other party’s views will not be tolerated.

G. After a PC, the Brother and Sister must do something they enjoy together, such as a brief brain game or throwing a baseball.

IV.  Enforcement of these terms is vital to the success of the agreement. Enforcement mechanisms are as follows.

A.  Both parties will designate a buzzer sound that they will use to correct the other party if they violate this agreement. The buzzers should be distinct but not contain intentionally aggravating material, such as a politician’s or news commentator’s voice.

B.  The first buzzer deployment is simply a warning and carries no consequences. If the buzzer must be deployed again within an hour, the offending party will rub the other’s shoulders for five minutes. This level of consequence deployment will continue until an hour has passed without a buzzer. Then the warning system will reset.

C.  Total buzzer deployments will be tallied for each day and will aggregate. Five buzzer deployments equal one drink owed. If the Brother and the Sister will not have an opportunity to buy each other drinks, then twenty buzzer deployments can be converted into a liquor bottle of the receiving party’s choice. In lieu of alcohol, the receiving party can request another similarly priced item, provided that the item is not inherently offensive to the giving party.

D.  Other family members (parents, siblings) will also have the ability to deploy buzzers against the Brother and the Sister and demand alcohol (or other) compensation directly to themselves. This is particularly applicable if the Brother and the Sister choose to ignore this agreement and engage in direct confrontation.

V.  The Sister proposes these preconditions be reviewed and either agreed to or countered before the next time that the Brother and the Sister are in the same geographical location. She requests that the brother respond within a timely manner in order to secure peace and prosperity for the entire family.

The Brother is wounded and tired of battle. He wishes nothing more than for peace to come of this dire situation and yearns for a bipartisan compromise. However, this resolution addresses only some issues that hinder the Zwiener family’s ability to be functional in group and private settings. The Brother wishes these demands are acknowledged before any ink be laid.

I.  The Sister will adhere to the following:

A.  The Sister will cease all excessive arguments with and/or around family friends/guests. (Excessiveness will be deemed by family members present.)

B.  The Sister will stop sharing personal stories of physical or psychological abuse in an open family setting.

C.  The Sister will become tolerant to stereotypical, racist, and sexist remarks.

D.  The Sister will not retreat from arguments that she chooses to escalate.

E.  The Sister will not share stories that may tarnish the Brother’s “innocence.”

II. In return, the Brother will offer:

A.  The Brother will accept all conditions the Sister drafted in the Preconditions for Diplomacy with regard to both parties.

B.  The Brother wishes the official document be renamed as “The Inherent Assholes’ Resolution for the Greater Good.”

C.  The Brother will support an amendment process for the addition and removal of future and current conditions.

That will be all.

The Sister shares the Brother’s desire for harmony within the Zwiener family household, and the initial offer extended to the Brother reflected her sincere hopes for improved diplomatic relations.  However, the Sister has concerns about the lack of specificity in the Brother’s counter offer and worries that the counter offer contains contradictory and unenforceable terms.

I.  The Sister will address each element of the Brother’s counter offer individually:

A.  Clause I.A is vague and does not lay out a clear definition for “excessive arguments”, instead mandating that family members make a potentially arbitrary and capricious decision. The Sister is concerned about the subjectiveness of this system and the additional burden that it will place on other family members to monitor disputes that are not their responsibility. The Sister wonders why the Brother does not find section IV and V of her initial offer adequate, as they outline specific dispute guidelines and enforcement mechanisms and appear to be consistent with the Brother’s stated goals.

B.  Clause I.B regarding the sister sharing personal stories of abuse is also vague, particularly in regards to the term “open family setting”. I also suspect that brother is conflating the term “abuse” with “harassment” and “assault”.  The sister is willing to entertain a more defined version of this clause as long as an exception is made for designated political conversations.

C.  Clause I.C is counter to the Sister’s interests and counter to many of the intentions of the Sister’s initial offer of terms. The Sister cannot agree to increased tolerance for bigoted language, though it should be noted that she did offer to ignore minor incidents outside of designated political conversations. (See Clause II.D of the Sister’s original offer)

D.  Clause I.D appears to be contradictory to the stated goal of this diplomacy, i.e. to reduce arguments and improve domestic harmony for the Sister, the Brother, and the rest of the family. Mandating the continuance of arguments will not produce any advantage for anyone. The Sister cannot agree to such a clause and once again wonders why the Brother feels that Section IV of the Sister’s initial offer doesn’t adequately address political conversations.

E.  The Sister will not agree to Clause I.E or a similar clause without an exception for safety. She suggests this revision: “The Sister will not share stories with the Parents that may tarnish the Brother’s reputation unless the Sister believes that the brother is in immediate physical danger.”

F.  The Sister is confused by Clause II.A and its apparent conciliation to all of the Sister’s terms, because it appears to contradict the Brother’s Clauses I.C and I.D. Given the redundancy and contradictions contained in the Brother’s counter offer, the Sister is suspicious of such a simple agreeing to of terms.

G.  Clause II.B is in poor taste, and the Sister will not agree to it. The Sister believes that she is a situational asshole, not an inherent one, and that her assholishness varies based on certain conditions, one of those being proximity to the Brother. The Sister would not be surprised if the same was true of the Brother.

H.  Regarding Clause II.C, the Sister is open to amending this agreement (if it ever truly does move beyond overtures and become an agreement) in the future. However, since these are terms between two individuals, the Sister does not see a need to create an elaborate amendment process.

The Sister is in general perplexed by the Brother’s counter offer. Much of it seems contradictory, redundant, or to simply not reflect a close reading of the Sister’s initial offer. This makes the Sister question the earnestness of the Brother’s participation in this negotiation. The Sister wonders if the Brother believes this is all a joke. However, the Sister continues to negotiate in good faith and hopes that the Brother will do the same. At the very least, the Sister is grateful that the process of discussing this agreement has led to less than three discord- and disagreement-free phone calls. The Sister will continue this process indefinitely if it provides a harmonious framework for intersibling dialogue.

I.  I love you, little brother, and I hope we can figure out how not to yell at each other so much.

Erin Zwiener lives at the base of Panther Mountain with a corral full of horses and is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona. She no longer dates anthropologists.

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