WHO do we see?
The way we view other people is very important to a relationship.
Mother: John, get over here right now and pick up this mess!
John: No, and you can’t make me.
So -- how do you think Mother was viewing John at the moment?
She was obviously seeing him as a nuisance - an annoyance - or a troublemaker.
John was viewing Mother as a person who was trying to force him - kind of a dictator.
Mother: John, when I see the mess on the floor here, I notice that your soccer items were not put away after practice, and that you dropped the books from your class right here on the floor too. This concerns me, because I would very much like to keep the house clean and orderly. Would you be willing to put these things away right now, and then come back so we can talk about what we can do to help you remember to put your things away?
In the second example, Mother also did not like the way things had been left out on the floor. Yet she did not see John as a nuisance or troublemaker. She saw him as her son, who she loved, who had left his things out.
This is so important. Mother was able to separate John from the behavior. This allows John to do something about the behavior, without having to defend his “me”-ness. He doesn’t have to prove to Mother that he is valuable, or important. He was simply asked to correct what had been done that was not appropriate.
Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher who lived from 1878 to 1965, called this idea “I-Thou” versus “I-It.” When we view people as “thou”, we see them with reverence, value, and respect for their roles in our lives. We also communicate with them from a place of value, honor, and feel a desire to have a meaningful relationship with them.
When we see people only in how their actions impact us negatively, then we do not have the ability to connect with the heart. This will always be a power struggle relationship. It will never be equal and mutually beneficial.
Power struggles occur when we see people with the “I-It” mentality.
When I learned this concept, I determined that when I needed to correct my children, I would first stop quickly, remind myself to view the relationship with an “i-Thou” perspective, and then begin to talk to them. Immediately I feel a great desire to connect with them from the heart. I do correct them if needed, and I do not hesitate to help them understand consequences, but because the relationship is “right,” things go so much better than if I had given a sharp reprimand and punishment.
Concentrating on building “I-Thou” relationships has made a huge difference in my life.
Note: There are other skills Mother used in the 2nd example above that really helped the situation to. We’ll discuss those ideas in future posts, but I will just list the skills she used here briefly. (1) Mother clearly identified the behavior. She didn’t say, “You’re a slob.” She didn’t say, “You never put your things away.” She clearly identified the soccer items, and the books. This is important, because John can’t argue about the fact that those things were left out. It eliminates the power struggle that could come with the idea that he was a slob. (2) Mother asked him to immediately do something about the situation, giving him the ability to immediately fix the problem. (3) Then Mother requested that he analyze the problem, by talking with her about what he would plan to do in the future. This is important too, because it allows the person to take ownership, and completely resolve the issue.