Monday, April 26, 2010

I and Thou

     In the previous post, I highlighted Taylor's writing about encountering your neighbor as the main character in her or his own story. Her ideas remind me of Martin Buber's book I and Thou. Buber (1878-1965) was a professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Palestine and wrote in the early 20th century about similar ideas.
     He noted how we tend to treat the world, whether objects, animals, or people, according to their function, according to what they can or would do for us. He termed this way of relating "I - it". Such interactions are characterized by self-protection, by preconceptions of response, by expectations of getting something from the other. Taylor would say by making them a supporting character in our story.
     But when we place ourselves fully in the moment with another, when we are vulnerable and mask-less, when we release preconditions, we might experience "I-Thou" moments with another person. They are moments of enlargement...when both are enhanced by the being of another.  The result is pure dialog, even without words, especially without words. 
     For Buber, God is the "Eternal Thou," and so our relationship with him, like our encounters with other persons, shouldn't be preconditioned or self-protective. Rather we should remain open and available. Buber wasn't necessarily a mystic. Like Taylor, he believed that often the most profound I-Thou relationship with God occurrs through an I-Thou relationship with other people and the natural world.

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