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I-It and I-Thou

--by David Brooks (Mar 13, 2017)


(Reflections on "I-Thou" by Martin Buber)

I-It relationships come in two varieties.

Some are strictly utilitarian. You’re exchanging information in order to do some practical thing, like getting your taxes done.

But other I-It relationships are truncated versions of what should be deep relationships. You’re with a friend, colleague, spouse or neighbor, but you’re not really bringing your whole self to that encounter. You’re fearful, closed or withdrawn — objectifying her, talking at her, offering only a shallow piece of yourself and seeing only the shallow piece of her.

I-Thou relationships, on the other hand, are personal, direct, dialogical — nothing is held back. A Thou relationship exists when two or more people are totally immersed in their situation, when deep calls to deep, when they are offering up themselves and embracing the other in some total, unselfconscious way, when they are involved in “mutual animated describing.”

A doctor has an I-It relationship with a patient when he treats him as a machine in need of repair. But Peter DeMarco described an I-Thou relationship in a letter to the doctors and nurses who cared for his dying wife, which was published in The Times:

“How many times did you hug me and console me when I fell to pieces, or ask about Laura’s life and the person she was, taking the time to look at her photos or read the things I’d written about her? How many times did you deliver bad news with compassionate words, and sadness in your eyes?”

In our culture we use phrases like finding oneself, finding your passion, loving yourself so you can love others. But Buber argued that it’s nonsensical to think of the self in isolation. The I only exists in relation to some other.

“The development of the soul in the child is inextricably bound up with that of the longing for the Thou,” he wrote. All through life, the self is emerging out of some dialogue, either a cold stifling one or a rich complete one: “All real living is meeting.”

You can’t intentionally command I-Thou moments into being. You can only be open to them and provide fertile soil...

Buber described genuine dialogue as a sort of social flow. Teachers and students are learning with each other. An audience and an artist are lost in a performance.

These moments don’t last. It is the “exalted melancholy of our fate” that Thou moments always fade back into It moments. But a world has been built during such intense moments. A binding cord has been strengthened. The person who has experienced the Thou has been thickened and comes closer to wholeness.
 

Excerpted from the NY Times article: http://nyti.ms/2e8y2x1

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6 Previous Reflections:

 
On Mar 16, 2017 Albert wrote:

 I-Thou moments are most precious with others (for me) when we sense, feel, think and imagine, collectively. These same moments occur for me more frequently however in the natural environment, when I am alone with nature. I can only imagine how our world would be today if we didn't consider the non-human, natural world as an 'It.'



On Mar 14, 2017 Soni wrote:

 This rings so true.... and it adds to my learning of last week when reading What makes you NOT a Buddhist - by Dzongasar Jamyang Khyentse.  In this book, the Tibetian practitioner-monk-teacher-writer describes the four noble truths in his own words to interpret for the modern world : First one is written as "All compounded / fabricated things are impermanent. "Compounded//fabricated" meaning anything that arises when two things, persons, thoughts, actions, meet. So also in relationships.  And before that : everything is emptiness. I-Thou moments would correspond to the present moments there is nothing coming between and there is 100% empathy and understanding between souls. The day-to-day experiences of people : quick jumping to analysis, categorizing and boxing of judgments is indeed an I-IT phenomenon. It was an OMG moment for me when I read this... because in such moments essentially we destroy human-ness of "others" into item-ness most of the ti  See full.

 This rings so true.... and it adds to my learning of last week when reading What makes you NOT a Buddhist - by Dzongasar Jamyang Khyentse. 

In this book, the Tibetian practitioner-monk-teacher-writer describes the four noble truths in his own words to interpret for the modern world :
First one is written as "All compounded / fabricated things are impermanent. "Compounded//fabricated" meaning anything that arises when two things, persons, thoughts, actions, meet. So also in relationships. 

And before that : everything is emptiness.

I-Thou moments would correspond to the present moments there is nothing coming between and there is 100% empathy and understanding between souls.

The day-to-day experiences of people : quick jumping to analysis, categorizing and boxing of judgments is indeed an I-IT phenomenon.

It was an OMG moment for me when I read this... because in such moments essentially we destroy human-ness of "others" into item-ness most of the time without awareness.

Thank you for this --- to watch out for.

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On Mar 14, 2017 Soni wrote:

 This rings so true.... and it adds to my learning of last week when reading What makes you NOT a Buddhist - by Dzongasar Jamyang Khyentse.  In this book, the Tibetian practitioner-monk-teacher-writer describes the four noble truths in his own words to interpret for the modern world : First one is written as "All compounded / fabricated things are impermanent. "Compounded//fabricated" meaning anything that arises when two things, persons, thoughts, actions, meet. So also in relationships.  And before that : everything is emptiness. I-Thou moments would correspond to the present moments there is nothing coming between and there is 100% empathy and understanding between souls. The day-to-day experiences of people : quick jumping to analysis, categorizing and boxing of judgments is indeed an I-IT phenomenon. It was an OMG moment for me when I read this... because in such moments essentially we destroy human-ness of "others" into item-ness most of the ti  See full.

 This rings so true.... and it adds to my learning of last week when reading What makes you NOT a Buddhist - by Dzongasar Jamyang Khyentse. 

In this book, the Tibetian practitioner-monk-teacher-writer describes the four noble truths in his own words to interpret for the modern world :
First one is written as "All compounded / fabricated things are impermanent. "Compounded//fabricated" meaning anything that arises when two things, persons, thoughts, actions, meet. So also in relationships. 

And before that : everything is emptiness.

I-Thou moments would correspond to the present moments there is nothing coming between and there is 100% empathy and understanding between souls.

The day-to-day experiences of people : quick jumping to analysis, categorizing and boxing of judgments is indeed an I-IT phenomenon.

It was an OMG moment for me when I read this... because in such moments essentially we destroy human-ness of "others" into item-ness most of the time without awareness.

Thank you for this --- to watch out for.

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On Mar 14, 2017 Barbara Gordon wrote:

What came to mind whilst reading this piece were the hours immediately following my daughter's birth. I felt such intensity of connectedness with her. In fact saying I 'felt' it isn't the word. I 'was' it! It lasted for several hours at a high level of awareness and extreme intensity and joy which expanded to include everyone and everything that had ever existed.
I have experienced this feeling at other times but for much shorter periods.
Thank you for this insight as now (41 years later) our relationship is struggling and we are considering attending relationship counselling to help heal a rift that has sat between us for over 4 years. Not easy as she lives in Australia and I live in UK. I shall take the I-Thou insight with me.
With Love and Gratitude.
Barbara x



On Mar 12, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

Life is a web of relationships. Some are  I-It  relationships. They are utilitarian,pragmatic and self-serving. Such relationships are shallow leaving no  nourishing deep roots of memory in our mind. I have had such relationships leaving no worth- remembering deep traces behind.

I cherish I-Thou relationships. It is a relationship between two genuine  and deeply caring beings. It has openness, trust,  and compassion. I have been blessed to have such deep relationships with my parents, family members, a few friends and my soul mate. Such relationships have made me a whole and wholesome person. Such relationships have been blessings to me and I am deeply grateful for such blessings.

May we  keep our mind and heart  open to cultivate such I-Thou relationships!

Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave




On Mar 11, 2017 david doane wrote:

I-it moments are utilitarian, goal- and future-directed.  I-thou moments are purposeless or goal-less and present.  Both kinds of moments are part of life.  In I-thou moments there are two individuals meeting, being open and honest in the moment.  In I-thou moments the individuals are personally present and vulnerable, simply being together.  In I-it moments there is an agenda, some thing or some function is being sought, and I relate to the other as being there to serve a purpose.  I-it moments can be fine when the agenda is out in the open, and are a problem when there is a hidden agenda.  I've had some I-thou moments in which I and another are being soul to soul in a spiritual agape love, and such moments are precious and few, as Sonny Geraci sang.  I-it and I-thou moments are easy to tell apart.  When I'm out to get something from the other I'm in an I-it moment.  When I'm simply meeting and being met, being open in the present and  See full.

I-it moments are utilitarian, goal- and future-directed.  I-thou moments are purposeless or goal-less and present.  Both kinds of moments are part of life.  In I-thou moments there are two individuals meeting, being open and honest in the moment.  In I-thou moments the individuals are personally present and vulnerable, simply being together.  In I-it moments there is an agenda, some thing or some function is being sought, and I relate to the other as being there to serve a purpose.  I-it moments can be fine when the agenda is out in the open, and are a problem when there is a hidden agenda.  I've had some I-thou moments in which I and another are being soul to soul in a spiritual agape love, and such moments are precious and few, as Sonny Geraci sang.  I-it and I-thou moments are easy to tell apart.  When I'm out to get something from the other I'm in an I-it moment.  When I'm simply meeting and being met, being open in the present and without purpose or agenda, I'm in an I-thou moment.

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