What does I and thou mean? Well, according to Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, it is a way of experiencing a relationship with a person. The I-It relationship is used in describing experiences within the world. Prior to an interaction between two people or a person and an object, there is an “I and Thou” relationship. When you are in the presence of others, even without thinking of them directly, there is an “I-Thou”relationship. It is between two subjects whole beings – it is a non-quantifiable, but mutual interaction. In the time that you are meeting someone, in that instant that you are placing yourself in a location, in the world experiencing another person, it becomes an “I-It” relationship. That your existence and their existence are now mutually relating to one another’s, but seperately in the “I-It” world — this is deep. My very incomplete and basic explanation of this may not indicate the extent to which this reformed thought process should make you think about every person you have ever met.
In undergrad, at UVA, I took a Religion and Modern Fiction class. It was an amazing course that required me to read “I and Thou” in conjunction with Eli Wiesel’s “Gates of the Forest” – a Calvin and Hobbes type story of a Jew escaping the Holocaust with a mysterious sort of partner who you never really understand. During the discussion section for this class (2 lectures per wk + 1 small discussion session), we were discussing these books and their relation. In the last 2 minutes before discussion ended, I wanted to know what the point was? Why do we need to experience I-Thou relationships? Or why do we need to recognize that we have them? The TA, Howard, whose name I still remember he was that good, replied: “because that acknowledgement and relationship can prevent a holocaust.” — woah. what? Ultimately, Buber was trying to get close to the Judea-Christian God, who he considered the Eternal Thou – the ultimate abstract relationship. Additionally though, he was trying to explain the sanctity of our beings ability to interact without our consent, and then how it changes in realizing that we have. Howard’s comment has stuck with me for a long time now – along with a half-baked understanding of this book.
This has been a long winded way of saying that what Freire had to say in his book reminded me of this book. His emphasis on the relationship between the teacher and the student is similar to what Buber is explaining. When Freire discusses the dichotomy between people and the world – people just live in the world, not with it or with other people and thus, the teachers job is to determine how the student should have the world filtered into him. Without the acknowledgment of people within the world and their experiences within the world, teachers can’t relate to students – you can’t have the proper I relationship with them for the most optimal type of learning. What is interesting is the Buber doesn’t really address the “banking” type of relationship as a relationship. He doesn’t address a way of interacting with people that isn’t sacred and important, even if it is completely within the tangible world and not an I-Thou relationship.
Anyway, as a teacher, I realize that I should aspire to have an I-It relationship with my students – one that recognizes them as other beings with whom I can share and learn.