I and Thou

I and Thou

In the creation of successful relationships, there are two essential elements: giving and taking.

In quality relationships, each party gives more than he or she takes, providing each person in the relationship a stockpile of positive experiences and memories.

This abundance allows us mistakes without dire consequences during times of change and growth in a relationship.

Understanding, keeping promises, honesty, kindness, win-win thinking, clear expectations, loyalty, forgiveness, apologies and effective communication strengthen the bonds of the relationship and create a surplus of goodwill to help weather the storms of life.

A relationship begins with the first gift of a word, thought or deed, as we realize the world is not all about ”me” and ”my.”

We need to come to the process of relationship building with reverence for the potential of each person, humility and acknowledgement that caring for another person is not always easy, along with awareness that there may not be payback in the relationship.

With our giving to another, we create a relationship that Martin Buber, the Austrian philosopher, called Ich und Du, translated as I and Thou.  Modern English lacks a counterpart to the word du, meaning “you” in a context of a close one-on-one relationship of family members and long-term friends.

Buber pointed out that we have two basic types of relationships in our world:

  • Connection with individuals, or
  • Associations with objects.

Difficulties ensue when we objectify our personal relationships or personalize our connections to objects.

We see examples of relationships being objectified with the employer who knows nothing about his or her employees. Or the mother who doesn’t want her three-year-old to kiss her because it will smudge her make-up or muss her outfit. Or the father who spends more time on the golf course or in front of his TV than with the people he purportedly loves.

The Ich und Du, the I and Thou, in these relationships has been misplaced or replaced. Respect for the worth and potential of the people in key relationships is lost. Relationships become I and Me, I and Them, or I and It. The critical I and Thou disappears.

Relationship building begins with the first gift of a word, thought or deed. The children in our relationships arrive ready to give. Children come to us with a natural reserve of understanding, forgiveness, honesty and loyalty. Otherwise we’d all never get over being stuck with diaper pins.

What, then, are the adult’s gifts to the child to create I and Thou?

Keeping promises, creating clear expectations for behavior, apologizing when we are wrong and developing effective ways to communicate, all done with kindness and compassion, are the gifts of the adult.

The essential human relationship of I and Thou begins with a look, a look of mutual respect for the potential of every human being–adult or child.

That is a gift.

Building Cathedrals Not Walls

8 Responses to “I and Thou”

  1. Jan Frazier

    Thank you for the inspiring article! I am looking forward to reading more of your articles and taking your webinars!

    • Jan,

      Aloha! Glad to have you as a reader. I look forward to having you in some webinars.

      I have two great ones comes up. How To Help With Spelling on May 10 and Helping Children Learn to Listen on June 7.

      Hope to “see” you there!

  2. Maryann

    Maren, I always enjoy your articles. They are good reminders of how to live with children, adults and ourselves. This one is particularly beautiful and inspiring. May we all embody generosity!


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