The Relational Self: Are We Merely Experiencing, Using, or Encountering Each Other?

In his book, I and Thou, Martin Buber asserted, “God is present when I confront You. But if I look away from You, I ignore him. As long as I merely experience or use you, I deny God. But when I encounter You I encounter him.”

What a profound and spiritual contextualization of the self and other—the relational self.

Acknowledging the feminine divine energy and tapping into my spiritual and cultural depths where the notion that God or the Great Spirit is present in all living things, I find Buber’s interpretation that I and You are one for the “basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being” to be quite refreshing.

Reflecting upon some of my past interactions, I realize that I had positioned myself as a separate individual while considering the other as an outside entity—a separate individual. Insights from this flawed perception of self and the other as a separate entity explains some of the challenges that these interactions presented because it led to viewing the other as—what Buber called—a He or She or It as opposed to You. It is no wonder that I perceived these interactions as an “experience.” Buber explained,

“We are told that man experiences his world. What does that mean? Man goes over the surfaces of things and experiences them. He brings back from them some knowledge of their condition—an experience. He experiences what there is to things. But it is not experiences alone that bring the world to man. For what they bring to him is only a world that consists of It and It and It, He and He and She and She and It. I experience something.”

When we view self as separate from the other, we limit our view of life to one of experience. In retrospect, I wonder whether I was merely experiencing or “using” the other in that context? Buber wrote, “Those who experience do not participate in the world. For the experience is ‘in them’ and not between them and the world. The world does not participate in experience. …The world of experience belongs to the basic world of I-It. The basic word I-You establishes the world of relation.”

Buber further noted that “the life of human beings does not exist merely in the sphere of goal-directed verbs. It does not consist merely of activities that have something for their object. I perceive something. I feel something. I imagine something. I think something. I want something. I sense something. I think something. The life of a human being does not consist merely of all this and its like. All this and its like is the basis of the realm of It.”

In separating self and the other, we essentially participate in the “realm of It” that is grounded in experience. In experiencing each other, we are often aware of particulars and things that only exist in the realm of the “It world.” We come out of I-It interactions outlining many things and particulars about the other while overlooking the opportunity to be in relation with the other—to engage the potential of an I-You encounter. Buber wrote, “I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter.”

It was from this space of seeking to not merely experience the other, but to encounter Buber’s I-You, that I was inspired to write the poem Reciprocity and I-You at yet another powerful juncture in my doctoral journey at Saybrook University.

Here is my poem, Reciprocity and I-You:

Reciprocity and respect for the human spirit,
Priceless! How can we ignore that?
Do I inflict pain or disrespect the other’s spirit?
What truth can ever be in believing I am better than You?
How could that be?
I bow to You.

Reciprocity and respect for the human spirit,
Priceless! How can we ignore that?
May I forever dwell in spaces anchored in reciprocity.
Spaces that uplift, recognize, enhance and respect the human spirit
In everyone I encounter—family, friend, stranger.
I bow to You.

Reciprocity and respect for the human spirit,
Priceless! How can we ignore that?
I see You. I appreciate You in all your Humanness.
I yearn for the same.
I cease to be, to exist without You.
I bow to You.

Reciprocity and respect for the human spirit,
Priceless! How can we ignore that?
Peace and grace be my abode for trying. For I am perfect and yet imperfect in all the Humanness
That embodies my being.
I bow to You.

Nakororire! Nimekuona! Namaste! I See You!

Reciprocity and respect for the human spirit,
Priceless! How can we ignore that?
I have found You.
I bow to You.
Peace and Love!
Peace out.

Read other posts by Kerubo Abuya

NOTE: The above poem included in this post was originally written by Kerubo Abuya on October 5th, 2010.

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