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I and Thou

Part I, aphorisms 9–19: Relation

Summary Part I, aphorisms 9–19: Relation

Encounters with human beings, at least, seem to have very similar consequences as the encounter with God. When describing the relation of man to man Buber says, "now one can act, help, heal, educate, raise, redeem" (I.19). The transformation in the case of relation to man, it seems clear, is also the growth of a loving responsibility, but only toward the You of the relation, rather than toward the whole world.

But what about the relation to nature? Unfortunately, here we hit the old frustrating wall of indescribability. Buber suggests that we let this type of transformation "remain mysterious" (I.19). Presumably, this means that encounter with nature does not result in the same sort of transformation (i.e. we do not develop a loving responsibility toward the cat or the tree), but rather in a different sort of transformation which cannot be easily put into words. The claim that encounter is unmediated is best understood if we draw an analogy between the two modes of engaging the world and two different ways of listening. There are two ways that someone can listen to another human being: first, the listener can approach the conversation armed with background knowledge about the speaker and expectations about what the speaker will say. If you approach a conversation in this way, you will hear only what makes sense to you given your knowledge and expectations. The other way to listen is to clear oneself of all prior knowledge and expectations, and simply open oneself up to the words being spoken. It is only if you listen in this way, that you enable yourself to truly hear everything that the other person is saying. This second way of listening is like unmediated relation. By approaching the encounter unmediated, we open ourselves up to come into contact with anything that the You has to offer, with the fullness of the You's being.