“I and Thou” by Martin Buber
I will start this summary with a confession — I thought I was sufficiently intellectual to try my hand at reading philosophy. I was wrong :) I read this book without understanding more than a sentence or two. I was amazed to discover I did not understand the meaning although I understood the words. This summery starts with this confession to set the expectations for the rest, as its level is a novice at best.
Martin Buber was an Austrian Jewish and Israeli philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I–Thou relationship and the I–It relationship. I choose his book as the first attempt at philosophy because of the beauty I find in his central concept — the profound relationship between persons as a mean to live life to its fullest.
Martin’s central concept is that man (or woman) has two distinct ways of engaging the world, one of which the modern age entirely ignores. The I-It relationship is shallow, requires only a need to be fulfilled by another person. The I-Thou relationship is deep and holds great respect for the other person — a relation of reciprocity and mutuality. The modern age is full of I-It relationships, where a man (or woman) seeks only to have connections that benefit him in some material way. Buber claims that contemporary society leaves man (or woman) unfulfilled and alienated because it acknowledges only one of our modes for engaging the world — the I-It relationship. Buber assumes that God is hidden in our I-Thou relationships by the third part of the book.
At this point, I will also confess that I read several articles and summaries about Buber’s work to understand it. And still, I had only grasped the central concept without understanding Buber’s meaning in many of his words. To close this summary, ill equate a few passages:
“Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other….
Secretly and bashfully he watches for a YES which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.”
“Love is the responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling — the equality of all lovers..”
To conclude, this book made me think about my relationships. Where is the “I-It” present, and where is the “I-Thou” present. I value my family and close friends above many other aspects of my life. I realized that true love leads to a genuine connection in an unselfish way, where we try to connect and see the other person without trying to gain a thing — not even their love. While this might sound idealistic (as my husband, who is my most prominent critic, just mentioned), it inspires one to consider how he should behave to other persons in his life. Could we find true meaning in “I-Thou” relationships? that is a question each of us needs to explore.