Barth’s “Rules for Older People in Relation to Younger”

A Late Friendship: The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 45.

  1. Realize that younger people of both sexes, whether relatives or close in other ways, have a right to go their own ways according to their own (and not your) principles, ideas, and desires, to gain their own experiences, and to find happiness in their own (and not your) fashion.
  2. Do not force upon them, then, your own example or wisdom or inclinations or favors.
  3. Do not bind them in any way to yourself or put them under any obligation.
  4. Do not be surprised or annoyed or upset if you necessarily find that they have no time, or little time, for you, that no matter how well-intentioned you may be toward them, or sure of your cause, you sometimes inconvenience and bore them, and they casually ignore you and your counsel.
  5. When they act in this way, remember penitently that in your own youth you, too, perhaps (or probably) acted in the same way toward the older authorities of the time.
  6. Be grateful for every proof of genuine notice and serious confidence they show you, but do not expect or demand such proofs.
  7. Never in any circumstances give them up, but even as you let them go their own way, go with them in a relaxed and cheerful manner, trusting that God will do what is best for them, and always supporting and praying for them.



Anonymous said…
Thanks for posting this Travis. I've not seen it before. It's very interesting (as is much of Barth's published correspondence).

BTW. I've re-posted it on my Paternal Life blog at
Anonymous said…
I'm inclined to argue against Barth on this one, or at least to put his words into historical and cultural context. At present, if anything we need rules for younger people in relation to older!

I'm not sure how many young people feel "bound" even to basic respect for older people, much less to honor older people for the wisdom that they have gained over the years (and listen to them!). I wish that younger people would spend time with older folks, not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to learn and grow. The day that our society quits viewing older people as a burden, those whose productive days have passed, we will be making some genuine progress.
Just to clarify, I think that Barth is talking about young adults - as in, 20s and 30s - in relation to their parents. The point is that we each need to find our own way, and that it will go much better for the parents if they don't get too anxious about this. Part of me thinks that Barth had his own father in mind, and how he tried to shape Karl's theological education in ways contrary to Karl's desires.
Anonymous said…
This is great, thanks for posting it. It goes against our desire to control others, especially those we see as "belonging to us." Perhaps he was referring to young adults, but this is challenging even in my own context, having an 18month old son. I can already sense the feelings rising in me to want to be in control and make decisions for him and he hasn't even learned to talk!
Anonymous said…
Barth should have included at least one more:
- Don't be surprised that young people don't want to hear you talk about your health problems. As your body ages it will start to fail in various ways, don't deceive yourself into thinking that the course of nature constitutes news.
I'll come back to this again and again! Thanks Travis.

Popular Posts

So, You Want To Read Karl Barth?

So You Want to Read….Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

2010 KBBC: Week 1, Day 5

Karl Barth on Hell, the Devil, Demons, and Universalism – A Florilegium

2010 KBBC: Week 3, Day 1