09 June 2007

I-Thou, I-You, I-It

The great Chasidic poet, philosopher and theologian Martin Buber wrote that there were three types of relating:

"I-Thou" relating, where people treat others as genuine equals in every way - as though others' welfare was in every respect at least as important as their own.

"I-You" relating, where people don't quite consider others as 'full equals' but consider them to have rights and feelings, and try to take them into account.

"I-It" relating, where others are considered objects, and treated like things.

Buber believed that I-Thou was the ideal, but he understood that most of us who care, and think about what we do, simply cannot manage I-Thou all the time and everywhere - it takes too much out of us. I-You relating is sufficient for human interactions to be both civil and decent.

He felt that there was no justification for I-It relating at all. He saw it as leading to things like the Holocaust. Since he was a Chasidic Jew and a Holocaust survivor, I defer to his expertise on that and won't challenge his logic one bit.

Most sound childrearing seems to me to be focused on making children aware that the I-Thou and the I-You ways of relating exist, teaching them to think in these ways, and persuading them not to pick I-It as their approach to others.

But there is one single major omnipresent defining characteristic of narcissism. And it's there whenever narcissism appears. It's there if we have a lapse ourselves and indulge in narcissistic behavior, if we're sick, tired, irritable, or just tapped out and needy ourselves. It's also there in people who are mildly narcissistic [sometimes somewhere] and in total narcissists [anytime anywhere] and in ultimate narcissists, otherwise known as sociopaths...

I-It relating. Solipsism. Selfishness unbound. The existential position that I, and only I, exist and have rights to consideration and satisfaction; I, only I, am a human being. This can be as transient and mild as wanting all the ice cream for yourself when your spouse asked you to save them some - or as savage and permanent as engineering the deliberate disenfranchisement, bankrupting, confinement, and murder of six million human beings in concentration camps.

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