Giri is difficult to express in words, but its meaning is very clear.
Loosely, giri means duty or obligation – specifically the obligation of one person to another.
Giri is pronounced “gi” (as in a karate uniform) and “ree.”
Giri is the invisible thread that connects the most important parts of our life to one another; it connects the obligations of teacher to student, and student to teacher; of husband to wife, and wife to husband; of employer to employee and vice versa; of friend to friend; and so on.
Giri is the physical manifestation of Gassho (deep appreciation). Without giri,gassho becomes a silent appreciation. With giri, we act in the real world because of our deep appreciation of others, and we act in a way that is directly congruent with that appreciation. For instance, if we have a friend that we care deeply about, and for whom we deeply appreciate, then giri requires us to act in ways that are in their best interest.
This is a two-way obligation, however. Giri is never one-way. For as much as an employee has an obligation to work hard, to be loyal, and to continually advance the interests of his or her employer, that employer also has a continuing obligation to help the employee, and act with generosity and care towards him or her.
There is also an element of “anticipation” inherent in the concept of giri. And this can be a remarkably wonderful and compassionate element. Giri implies that we do not act robotically or without thought; we should not have to be asked to fulfill our obligations to those to whom we owe giri. Rather, we anticipate what needs, and act without being asked. If we take this concept to our personal relationships, and even in some business relationships, giri leads us to “delight” those around us by anticipating their needs and desires, and acting upon this.
Giri is a kind of “social glue” that strengthens communities and makes them resilient, and the net effect of giri is to strengthen both people, and as both people in such a relationship have obligations to one another, giri does not create a hierarchy of one person over another.