Jeff Kluger: The Hidden Power of Siblings at TEDxAsheville (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Time Magazine’s senior writer Jeff Kluger’s TEDx Talk presentation: The Hidden Power of Siblings at TEDxAsheville conference. Jeff Kluger is the author of Apollo 13, upon which the 1995 movie was based. His newest book is Apollo 8 which will be published in May 2017. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.

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Jeff Kluger – Senior writer at Time Magazine

Thank you. Thank you very much. It is bright.

Well, TED has already persuaded me to change my life in one small way by persuading me to change the opening of my speech. I love this idea of engagement. So, when you leave here today, I’m going to ask you to engage or re-engage with some of the most important people in your lives: your brothers and sisters. It can be a profoundly life-affirming thing to do, even if it isn’t always easy.

This is a man named Elliot for whom things were very difficult. Elliot was a drunk. He spent most of his life battling alcoholism, depression, morphine addiction and that life ended when he was just 34 years old. What made things harder for Elliot is that his last name was Roosevelt. And he could never quite get past the comparisons with his big brother Teddy for whom things always seemed to come a little bit easier.

It wasn’t easy being Bobby, either. He was also the sibling of a president. But he adored his brother Jack. He fought for him, he worked for him. And when Jack died, he bled for him too.

In the years that followed, Bobby would smile, but it seemed labored. He’d lose himself in his work, but it seemed tortured. Bobby’s own death, so similar to John’s, seems somehow fitting. John Kennedy was robbed of his young life. Bobby seemed almost to have been relieved of his.

There may be no relationship that affects us more profoundly, that’s closer, finer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with wow than the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters. There is power in the sibling bond. There is pageantry. There is petulance too. As when Neil Bush, sibling of both a president and a governor, famously griped “I’ve lost patience for being compared to my older brothers.” As if Jeb and George W. Bush were somehow responsible for the savings and loan scandal and the messy divorce that marked Neil in the public eye.

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But more important than all of these things, the sibling bond can be a thing of abiding love. Our parents leave us too early, our spouse and our children come along too late. Our siblings are the only ones who are with us for the entire ride.

Over the arc of decades, there may be nothing that defines us and forms us more powerfully than our relationships with our sisters and brothers. It was true for me, it’s true for your children and if you have siblings it’s true for you, too.

This picture was taken when Steve, on the left, was eight years old. I was six, our brother Gary was five and my brother Bruce was four. I will not say what year it was taken, it was not this year.

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