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I and Thou was a concept introduced by a German theologian, Martin Buber in his book ‘Ich und Du’ which roughly means I and Thou (You). Buber offered up a new way at looking at communication between individuals by rooting his concept not on the individual or others but rather on the relationships and the relational attitudes between two beings. He believed that humans looked at the world with an ‘either or’ attitude and therefore this concept dealt specifically about the two types of speaking and interacting, which he described using two primal word pairs:  I –Thou and I –It.

Buber believes that these two basic word pairs are essential to understanding how one responds or communicates to another. I refers to one or the other life stands that we take in a conversation. These life stands that flow through us are complementary opposites and we are continuously switching between them and repositioning ourselves relationally. Both the basic modes are necessary and the act of choosing one or another when responding to someone contributes to building a world of meaning. I does not exist by itself. It takes on a form based on its relation with elements outside itself (the other). The other is viewed as the wholly ‘Thou’ or the objectified ‘It.’

I and Thou

thinglass / dollar photo club

I –Thou

Thou’ does not stand for God or for an object or for he, she or it. Rather Thou refers to the presence of uniqueness and wholeness in a person that is the outcome of genuine listening and responding. The I –Thou relationship is a two sided affair, when both the individuals enter into the conversation with their unique whole being. The relationship is reciprocal, yielding, momentary, leads to clarity and lacks permanency. I –Thou establishes a world of relation and is always in the present, that which is happening (an event).

I –Thou relationships occur during relations with nature, humans or with spiritual beings. It arises both at moments of genuine dialogue or indifference. For example, it takes place when the eyes of two strangers meet on the bus before one gets off at his stop. An I –Thou relationship makes one completely human by building up our wholeness and encompasses a world of personal acquaintance. In this relationship there is close bonding that emerges from a natural association. This is the realm of freedom. Here You alone is impossible.

I –It

It’ can also refer to he or she. It regards others as objects with which one interacts to gain knowledge or experience. The focus is on conceptualizing, manipulating and accumulating things. The relationship is one–sided, there is control and occurs in space and time. I–It establishes a world of experience and is rooted in the past.

In It, a human can feel something, imagine something or want something from the object. For example, I sit on a chair because it gives me rest, I buy milk from him because he sells milk, and she sells me the book because I would like to read it. He, she and it are serving my needs and therefore I use them.The other is objectified. An I –It relationship provides a number of practical benefits in our lives and encompasses a world of first-hand knowledge. In this relationship there are degrees of separations from others that emerge from a natural discreteness. This is the realm of determinism. Here It alone is alienating.

Implication for Communication Theorists

The concept of I and Thou in the field of communication is important for its focus on the power of dialog. It deals with the willingness of communicators to being open to moments where both individuals include the other in their own experience and listen for responses.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • humaira April 6, 2017, 10:38 pm

    Sir I am happy to know that there are some rare Golden people who wanted to study Human behavior through communication language.with help of this knowledge we can creat unity and understanding what Got has created for us to live Happy and peacefully in this world.

  • Craig Smith September 17, 2018, 4:55 am

    I’ve been very influenced by the I-Thou relationship idea. I have been quite disappointed in a lot of my Facebook connections because it’s mostly people passing along one post after another after another. Rather than an I Thou dialogue and Mindful savoring, it is more of a quick means-ends I -it relationship. Same thing with a lot of texts I Get.

    The reason why I am sharing this with you is because I thought of anybody on the Internet you might be the most understanding of what I want here. And that hopefully you could recommend me to communities on Facebook which Share my value? Or to particular individuals that might be happy to have this sort of dialogue? Go to Internet sites in general?

    Because there are so many marvelous things available to discuss these days, I would like to see if anybody would like to have a Mindful dialogic video chat or phone chat to discuss things on Facebook or the arts etc. do you know of any Internet sites or Facebook sites that I could propose this idea and likely have some takers ?

    Blessings to you


  • Scott January 13, 2019, 7:45 pm

    I’m about 2/3 through the book and find it very frustrating. I’m pretty pragmatic and am thinking about how emulating the central idea in this book would change my behavior, and I really can’t figure that out. I’ve been looking and looking for any discussion about that and your last sentence of your blog is the closest thing I have found to even a hint of discussion about this. Thank you!
    Other than that, I will just express that I find the book, to this point at least, could have been written in about five pages and gotten the point across. I feel rather stupid because so many people seem to enjoy the book so much, whereas to me a lot of it is totally unintelligible, meaning that the words make sense to me, but the sentences don’t. I just catch tiny glimpses of understanding (maybe that’s sort of the point), and there seems to be a whole lot of saying the same thing over and over again, but with different sentences.
    One last thought is that the whole thing really reminds me of Zen Buddhism, which is more understandable to me when reading, although I think the attainment is likewise not simple.

  • Khaled Alyami January 15, 2020, 9:59 pm

    That was not a very clear article.

    Thanks anyways…

  • Jo May 24, 2021, 2:04 pm

    I dropped acid a few years ago and saw this. I felt the walls slip away with my best friend. It was momentary and fleeting. Ive been desiring that kind of connection ever since, But because ive always had it as a goal, i always manipulated both myself and others toward my goal of close relationship. it doesnt work that way. You have to give off positive vibes, Treat the world as thou. The tree is no longer it, it is thou, thou who gives me shade, drinks deeply, and provides us air to breathe. A tree as an it can be studied, a tree as thou can be savored. Anyway. I see people saying the article was confusing or that they struggle with this kinda thing. I can say that the article is very well put together and relatively comprehensive, but you need to also include Bubers view on how we relate to the world to understand where you stand right now and try other ways of viewing things. have a good one yall!

  • Aj December 15, 2021, 11:54 am

    May I know what relation we have of my mother I-thou or I-it? I think I thou I’m not sure can u answer my question and explain?

  • Jack August 21, 2023, 10:59 pm

    Consider the parable of the prodigal son…the returning son is now open to change and growth the other is locked into the father son relationship of the law. Being open to a dynamic relationship is perhaps the message here ?

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