I’m, obviously, not an artist – haha! But this image has been bouncing around in my mind for years. I have been assessing my relationships, learning how to be as relationally healthy as possible – which starts with me having a right understanding of my worth and the worth of others.
It’s also helped me when navigating relationship issues my kids have struggled with. Usually it sounds something like this– “We ALL are worth equal value.” “Nope – siblings don’t need to be talked down to. Did that tone show that you thought the other person deserved to be heard?” “Sounds like you might be putting more value on your friend’s voice. You have just as much value as all of your friends. Your voice matters.”
i/YOU – we treat the other like they have more value. No one can make us have less value. We can strip our own value away when we think of the other as more important.
When this happens, we don’t fully show up to the relationship. We are holding back from the other. We need to step back and assess – why am I making myself smaller? What do I need to believe/do/say to change the i to I?
I/you – we treat the other like they are not as important as we our. We dismiss their ideas because we believe we know more. We lack respect for them so we dominate conversation or judge them. We don’t provide space for their thoughts.
When we notice ourselves feeling superior we need to slow down, realize that they are a fellow human. Create a safe place for them to be in move from you to YOU. If it’s a person you don’t want to have a deep relationship with – that’s great to realize. But be respectful, be kind. The world is full of brokenness, let’s do our part to heal it.
I/YOU – I have infinite value. You have infinite value. We speak our minds and listen from that place of truth. We choose to listen actively, to see things from the other’s perspective and share from our true self not our defensive self.
I/YOU interactions might just change our world. When I look at what’s happening in the world I can get overwhelmed. Mass shootings, racism, lack of empathy, so much divisive information fills our minds everywhere we turn. We need to begin to move to towards the middle.
People are stripping others of their worth left and right. Maybe it’s out of feeling worthless themselves. Who knows? We need change. I want my children to grow up knowing how to respect others and not give up their own value.
It begins with self-awareness. What do we do in conversation with others? Who do we tend to make ourselves small around? Who do we inappropriately assert our power over? How can we come to the middle? Notice how you are interacting today.
This idea began for me when I stumbled upon Martin Buber’s work, a few years ago, during a dark time in my life. My family had been living overseas because my husband was working for an school that ended up being quite a scam.
The owner of the school told us things about the position and the school that sold us on joining him – getting rid of most of our possessions, packing up our 4 kids and 12 large duffle bags and moving to Malaysia. Long story short, the owner did not go through the appropriate channels for our visas and we ended up being kicked out of the country.
The school was an emotionally toxic place and it seeped into our marriage as well. Although we were ready to move from the school, we had developed deep relationships with some incredible people there (who are still like family to us) and it was heartbreaking to leave. We had dreamed of moving overseas for years and those dreams were being crushed.
This year of intense stress brought many unhealthy marital patterns to the forefront. The early days of transition back to the States our relationship felt broken beyond repair. In our 16 years of marriage I had never uttered the word divorce but it now was a very real option. I knew I couldn’t live in the relational cycle we had been trapped in for years.
It’s taken years of intense work, mostly on our own issues, but I’m happy to report that we are in a good place in our marriage. There wasn’t one magic pill that made things better. We had to put a lot of work in. We are still putting a lot of work in. We are constantly learning about ourselves as individuals and each other.
Allllllll that to say, when I was in that dark and twisty soul space, I did what I always do when faced with heartbreak – read and search for a solution. Unfortunately, the many marriage books I found weren’t helping me. We were beyond needing better communication. At a basic level we couldn’t understand each other. Years of hurt, mistrust, and sweeping things under the rug had rotted our foundation. We needed a new way of being. Books are always the answer for me and the older the better.
I found Martin Buber’s I and Thou and have not stopped thinking about the concept since. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even finishing reading the book (that happens a lot and I’m ok with that). I got what I needed from it – the idea that we communicate either from: I-it or I-Thou.
I was hit hard with the knowledge that Michael and I had been communicating as “I-it” people for so many years. We got married young and didn’t know our “I” well enough to respect ourselves. So, when we communicated we were in a battle for the other to validate us since we hadn’t learned to validate ourselves. The “I-Thou” became a vital part of repairing our relationship.
Sometimes the things we need most are found in the darkest places. Maybe overlooked previously, they become a compass for our soul leading us out of those shadow spaces into light – stronger, wiser and softer.