According to the book Anatomy of Peace, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber
observed that there are basically two ways of being in the world: we can be in the world seeing others as people or we can be in the world seeing others as objects. He called the first way of being the I-Thou way and the second the I-It way, and he argued that we are always, in every moment, being either I-Thou or I-It—seeing others as people or seeing them as objects.In other words, Buber believed that human experience oscillates between two different kinds of relationships: “I-Thou” and “I-It.” We sometimes experience others as objects that can either assist or hinder us in the pursuit of our own desires and wants (which take precedence over the needs or desires of others). When we experience the world this way, we see people as we see any other object in the natural world: items of interest that can be analyzed, explained, observed, described, or manipulated.
Other times, we experience others as people who have needs, desires, and an existence that are of equal importance to our own, to whom we are obligated to treat with dignity and respect. Jeffrey Reber explains, “The I-Thou relation happens when there is a direct, unmediated meeting with another being, not as an object or a thing to be experienced, used, and explained, but as a Thou, a You, to be met, responded to, and shared with.” The I-Thou relationship is something that can never be encapsulated in any scientific observation, description, or analysis, because talking about the I-Thou relationship that way inherently reduces it to something that it is not. It is an experience of another human being as something other than us, something that is fundamental irreducible, something that can call upon us in ways that mere objects cannot.
We are fundamentally different people in each of these two relationships. Reber explains, “The hyphen in the I-It and I-Thou relation is very important … because it signifies the inseparability of the I from the It or Thou. … As Buber puts it, ‘The I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.’” In other words, the way we relate with the world around us affects who we are. There is no self that is separated from the surrounding world, and no part of the self that isn’t affected by changes in its relationship with the surrounding world.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
I've come to the conclusion that we, at least I, betray myself almost everyday. I reached this conclusion after reading through a series of posts at the LDSPhilosopher blog named "Two Ways of Being". This series looks at the way we betray ourselves by looking at others as objects, rather than human beings. The series and post introductions can be found here. An excerpt: