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.’
thinglass / dollar photo club
‘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.
‘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.