Examining Buber on the Day Against Gender Violence

Couple Playing on a SwingOnce upon a time, a man called Martin Buber sat in front of a tree. Nobody knows for how long, but he certainly sat for more than ten minutes. Although sitting in a tree seems ordinary enough, in that span of ten minutes, Martin Buber conceptualized a philosophy of relationships for us, the common men, who contemplate the dawn of a new Humanism.

Ninety years after his Ich und Du (I-You) essay, during the same week when we celebrate the Day against Gender Violence on November 25, it seems necessary to review the great philosophical contributions of Buber.

Relationships are a crucial aspect of human beings. The type, number, and quality of relationships we have reveal a lot about our identities. Through relationships we express who we are and our dignity.

A person is never a person alone, but always “a person in relation with”.  My relationship with others is part of my identity, and we should understand ‘others’ to mean not only people, but also animals, trees, nature or even, God.

Buber made a clever distinction in the world of the relationships: the I-It relationship and the I-You relationship. In the I-It relationship, I refer to others as things, as an entity standing in front of me which I can think about, know about, manipulate, help or want.

However, the I-You relationship is a closer relation in which I am with the other (person, waterfall, bird) but I am not trying to understand, use, nor experiment with it.  I do not examine the other from a distance, but rather I am with the other, and there is no distance between it and me, between You and I. Achieving this closeness is necessary to give my being, the best and all of me. In an I-It relationship, only one part of me is involved: my thoughts, my curiosity, my love, but never the wholeness of my being.

The I-You relationship expresses a person completely, shows the best of that person, and is authentic. I-It relationships are partial and distant. However, we should not think I-It relationships are unnecessary and less important; they are necessary for practical reasons. It is impossible to establish an I-You relationship with every cashier, every postman or every person we come across during the day. In Buber’s words: “Without the It, human beings cannot live. But those who live only with the It are not human”.

This week we celebrate the Day against Gender Violence. To be honest, there is nothing to celebrate. We must all keep working hard and enjoying the tree in front. This is the only way forward.

By Amanda de la Santisima Trinidad, a WYA member from Spain