Friday, February 26, 2010

Martin Buber and Adolescence

Who knew that an early 20th century Jewish philosopher could have such insight into the three-fold adolescent task of understanding self--identity (who am I?), autonomy (how am I unique?), and affinity (who is my community?). From his seminal work, I and Thou:
The I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.
The I of the primary word I-It makes its appearance as individuality and becomes conscience of itself as subject (of experiencing and using).
The I of the primary word I-Thou makes its appearance as person and becomes conscience of itself as subjectivity (without a dependent genitive).
Individuality makes its appearances by being differentiated from other individualities. (Autonomy)*
A person makes his appearance by entering into relation with other persons. (Affinity)
The one is the spiritual form of natural detachment, the other the spiritual form of natural solidarity.
*words in bold are mine.
Buber goes on to make this profound statement about how our identity and reality are inherently relational:
All reality is an activity in which I share without being able to appropriate for myself. Where there is no sharing there is no reality. Where there is self-appropriation there is no reality. The more direct contact with the Thou, the fuller is the sharing. The I is real in virtue of its sharing in reality. The fuller its sharing the more real it becomes.
It's a weighty book that is taking me weeks to wade through, but its implications for ministry and personal growth are enormous. Highly recommended.


  1. i curse the day amazon created a wishlist function. i need a good freelance job to support my book addiction. :(

    (thanks for sharing. i've enjoyed the buber snippets i've read. to the wishlist this book goes.)

  2. Alaina, it's a wonderful treatise on human relationships, but quite difficult to follow. I've found myself re-reading entire sections just to clarify if I've fully understood. Buber is deep.

    Also, never quote from him to junior high boys, as his last name tends to elicit giggling.