Friday, November 11, 2016

Moons, Moans and Memories

It's hard to understand the human mind. Sometimes it simply has its way with us. One can be in a totally different world of thought and a memory intrudes, out of the blue. For some reason, I started remembering yesterday I and Thou. It's a book I read years ago by Martin Buber.

Buber believes there are two ways humans have of engaging the world. The way we normally engage is what Buber calls "I-It". It's a subject - object relationship. So if I'm looking for a home or a car, or perhaps even a wife, I collect the appropriate data, analyze and classify it and weigh the attributes. 

This way of engaging the world sees the "it" as something to be utilized, selected for some purpose, a collection of qualities and quantities. The "I" in this kind of relationship is more observer than participant. The "it" can be discarded when it is no longer useful, whether a car, a home, even a wife.

The second way of engaging the world is what Buber calls "I-You." In this mode one enters into relationship with the other in a way that transforms them both. This can happen between humans, like in a marriage, but also with elements of nature or even with inanimate objects. So you can have a transforming relationship with a dog, or a piece of music, water (I'm anxious to get in the shower), or even the moon.

The third way of engaging the world is what Buber calls "I-Thou." Of necessity, this third way recognizes a relationship that is beyond our capacity to objectify it. In this relationship we are not in the driver's seat. We can not control or manipulate the Thou. But if the Thou takes hold everything changes, because we understand the world around us in a totally new way, as endowed with presence that transforms the world, and more importantly, transforms us.

That's the first memory, the Buber book!

But there's also a moan! Because I'm remembering (a second memory) as I write this, we are recognizing Veterans Day today. As a nation we are honoring and recalling the lives and deaths of millions who fought and died in this nation's wars. 

Inherent for me in the day, is the grief I feel for the all too present capacity humans have to turn peoples and places into the "other," to the point where all are expendable. How is it that we still are not able to see those who come from different races, cultures, countries or creeds as a "you," open to mutual relationship and transformation? Why must the other always be treated as an "it?" Are we inherently, perhaps even genetically, frightened that we might be changed?

Buber wrote I and Thou in 1923. Even then he was recognizing how modern society was built on "I-It." He saw all the institutions of the day built on this kind of objectifying of others; economics (especially economics), politics (especially politics), the military (especially the military), education, even the family. 

For Buber, the result of an "I-It" society was eventual alienation, a sense of homelessness, a loss of identity, an existential angst. It results in a pervading sense of meaninglessness, a pervasive feeling of fear and impending doom. 

A second moan! The 2016 Presidential election! Talk about a society in existential angst with a pervasive feeling of fear and alienation. It's the U.S. today writ large! Maybe we need to transform our culture from "I-It" to "I-You," even "I-Thou."

So what to do? I'm going to look for the moon! Monday night will be a "super moon." Because the moon will be full and closer to the earth than at any other time in 2016, it will appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter. It will be closest to the earth since January 26 of 1948. It won't be as close again till November of 2034. I'm hoping for clear skies.

The night sky, if we take the time to look, reminds us of our finiteness. It's all bigger than we are. And if one is able to discard the "I-It" mentality, not try to grasp or use the night sky for a purpose, we might even be exposed to potential relationship with a "Thou."  

Awe always has an aspect of reverence and wonder. Awe can inspire us to new modes of relating. And an "I-Thou" relationship can relieve our moans and enable us together to make new and more beautiful memories.

Carl Kline

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