Philosopher Martin Buber identified three different levels of communication: I - it, I - you, I - thou. Every interaction we have with other people falls into one of these categories.
I - it
This is barely acknowledging someone, if at all. We tend to treat people as objects or machines used to get a job done. We engage in this kind of communication with the checker at the grocery store, the waiter at a restaurant even when we see a homeless person. It is normal and can hardly be avoided due to the sheer number of people we encounter on a daily basis.
I - you
This is the most common form of communication. Imagine you are walking in the park and you witness the wind blow away the hat of a stranger. It comes in your direction, so you catch it and give it back to her. You and she will exchange a few sentences about the weather this time of year, you may share a brief story of your own, you will each say goodbye and part ways. You have acknowledged each other as more than objects, but you have not fully engaged each other as unique individuals. Unfortunately, too many families communicate in this way also.
I - thou
This is the rarest type of communication among people. However, it is the most important type in intimate relationships. You have achieved this kind of communication when each person recognizes the other as a distinct and exceptional being. This means you must know and wholly accept the uniqueness of the other person. You must also trust them enough to allow them to know you the same way, as a person with strengths and weaknesses.
I want you to think about your loved ones, and in which category you fit. Are you truly genuine, or are you more concerned with appearances? Remember, the people we love deserve to know us entirely, even if we think they are not going to like it. Otherwise, how do we grow in our relationships? Let us strive to create households where our children and our life partners are free to express themselves AS THEMSELVES, and not only as they think we want them to be. When we do, they will do the same for us.
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