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Thursday, September 2, 2010

I - It / I - Thou – CREDO CXXIV

We owe Martin Buber, the great Jewish theologian, philosopher and writer, an enormous collective debt! In those four short words, he has summed up the greatest problem of all relationships in the world and offers us the wiser choice.

Buber was a follower of Hasidism and, in fact, wrote about our mutual love, the Baal Shem Tov (see CREDO #117). He believed that you met the sacred in the commonplace and that we can meet the Divine hidden within ourselves and find it in others when you realize that, as I put it, the flame on every wick of Self is the same flame! I suspect that Buber was a joyous individual.

As I understand it, Hasidism in this country, several centuries after the Baal Shem Tov, has undergone a kind of enantiodromia, in that it now has very strict regulations for conforming.

Always remembering that the Latin for “I” is ego (!), it is easy to see how ubiquitous the I-It relationship is.

* It is the basis for all murder and wars of today.
* It is the basis in most business and educational relationships: customers, pupils.
* It is the basis in psychiatry and medicine, where patients are “cases” or even reduced to statistics.
* It is the way we perceive the living creatures we eat and animals in general.
* It is the way some of us regard people of other races or the poor.
* It is the attitude of the guy with the gun, thinking “Don’t take this personally, bang! you’re dead!”

Freud placed his patients on a couch. Jung did not. They sat face to face. For him it was always I – Thou, and he even spoke of the psychic space that two people generate, its content becoming the hidden third. Ego and ego meet and invite the recognition of the Spirit implied by the Self. It is as if we are all different lamps but the Light in each is the same Light.

Buber, like the Baal Shem Tov, knew the Joy of Wisdom and the Wisdom of Joy, that true religion was happy and full of delight and love, not just a preoccupation with endless study about definitions or raking one’s soul about guilt. I, for one, when I was eight years old, was indoctrinated with the latter issue in a so-called Christian school in San Remo, Italy, and I spent years feeling guilty. Even today I can feel guilty of not feeling guilty about something!

If you think about it, how careless are we in treating those who casually serve us as “its.” And, yet, each is a human being like yourself, easily comforted by being recognized as a “Thou”!

I may be repeating the story of the breakfast my beloved Walter and I had one early morning at a Hartford Airport hotel. I observed, as the tired salesmen and others went up to the middle-aged cashier, how she greeted each one, without fail, with a friendly comment and a big smile. There was a visible shift in attitude in the shoulders of each customer, as if a silent spark had been transmitted. When it was our turn to pay, I couldn’t resist commenting on my observation. She glowed almost mischievously at being found out! Yes, she admitted, it was her spiritual intent to recognize the human need for recognition. Today, twenty-five years later, I have not forgotten her. Martin Buber would have loved her.

Psychologically, I suppose, when we take the I-it stance, it comes from our unconscious need to feel superior or perhaps the fear that a stranger might otherwise take the Thou as a come-on, especially these days, But a quick smile can do.

As I am old and handicapped, I walk with two tall Scottish cromags (shepherd’s crooks), up our narrow dirt Hupi Road. I wave to each driver who passes, and most of them wave back or even stop to say hello. But a few summer people stare ahead and rush by. One knows right away that these are city people still encapsulated perhaps in the fear of any intimacy, though a crippled old lady shouldn’t really pose a threat! What they miss is that tiny spark transmitted by the briefest of I-Thou.

Theologically, it can be a moment of agape or transpersonal love, now celebrated in many Christian churches post-communion by greeting the ones standing close to you, a nice custom, that came much later in my experience.

It is summarized in Mother Teresa’s creed: I believe in person to person and that God is in everyone. In this Age of Aquarius, the person-to-person is in great danger of getting lost. Even this post is just words magically transmitted by technology!

Any road, as the Scots say.

I sign this
cyber-lovingly, and hope you get the “pook” I send trying to make it Martin Buber’s I-Thou!

1 comment:

Jon said...

Spreading your words, Alice, to my friends everywhere. Thank you SO much!