Sketch of an old footbridge over a stream

The Bridge Between

Exploring dialogue through the lens

of Martin Buber and Contextual Therapy

The Time for Courage

Janet Stauffer

Published: November 1st, 2020


In two days citizens of the USA go to the polls to vote in what has been an extremely polarized and divisive election year. So many are entrenched in “their” side of the vote and aghast that the other side could think the way they do. It is as if we were from differing planets, not sisters and brothers from the same town, the same state, and the same nation.

The tendency to want to push away and reject one who is not like me, or who does things that threaten my hopes for the future is normal and a very common reality in many persons lives. However, it is a failure to allow that urge to direct our paths.

This is the moment our courage is most needed. The election will soon be past, but the polarization will only go deeper, unless …. unless we take courage to walk the bridge to the one who is most different from us. This is the time to check a tendency to turn the other into their political persuasion and forget that they are so much more than their vote. They too are human with passions and disappointments, joys and troubles, and longings for life to be well. This is the time to remember that we are deeply interconnected even amidst our differences.

Martin Buber also stood at a very challenging point in the mid twentieth century as the Jews were returning to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea where Arabs were living. He wanted a binational state where both ethnicities could be honored. Buber recognized polarities were forming and hostilities would strengthen and be perpetuated across time if the Arabs and the Jews did not learn to know one another first as human to human, to share life and live together. He advocated living collectively in Kibbutzum where persons could reach across the divide and form interhuman bonds sharing in common humanity. As we see today, his vision was not able to become the reality at any meaningful level and years of massive suffering continue as persons struggle against one another to meet their own perceived or real needs.

Courage is needed at this time to refuse to objectify the other. It is a time to define our needs and longings, and to sit with the other to hear theirs. We can listen to what formed the other, and consider how we came to draw our line in the sand. It is a time to find our common humanity. Turning others into objects that we can seek to annihilate moves us down the developmental spectrum. The vitality of life is not free to flow and we become increasingly rigid. Energy multiplies when we claim who we are AND open to who the other is, willing to truly meet them, willing to be surprised. Creative life flow spills forth and we replenish the planet with “bridges between” rather than “walls that divide.” Let’s walk the way to one another and authentically meet in the space we find between us.