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I see Buber’s “I-It” relationship play out in my work with domestic violence. Batterers do not perceive the relationships with their partners as “I-Thou” and instead they dehumanize their significant others. If a person is viewed as an object, it is easy to overlook their human characteristic when the batterer rages into an assault. The survivor is left confused thinking, “How can a person who loves me continue to physically assault me? How can this person physical beat me in one moment and then apologize and promise to change in the next but then continue with future assaults? Again, if the assailant doesn’t view his or her partner as an equal and instead objectifies him or her, the abuse is inappropriately justified. He or she may be thinking, “If you wouldn’t have made me mad, you wouldn’t have been hit.” It’s your fault but even if the significant other is submissive and works diligently to make their partner happy, the abuser will still find fault and continue to abuse. It is always the survivor that the abuser believes must change; his or her line of thought, “You must quit provoking me” instead of the batterer recognizing the inhumane treatment by authentically taking accountability for the his or her criminal actions.
I was racking my brain trying to find a scenario that might be a positive “I-It” connection. Here is my best attempt:
I knew this student who was studying forensics in college this past year and because of this she had to do work on cadavers. If she thought of the deceased person as a tool to research and potentially gain in insight and/or science breakthroughs, she could work with the body. But, when she looked at the person as someone who may have been a mother, or daughter, a friend or loved one and she started focusing on the detail of the body; it’s upkeep, painted nails etc., she would become nauseated and she was unable to continue in the lab. By dehumanizing the corpse she was able to complete her studies. It is amazing to me how our minds work; perception is key.
Hopefully the examples I have provided offers you some valued insight to Buber’s theory on human engagement. We can all benefit from “I-Thou” connections whether it is with the stranger on the street, a neighbor or a loved one. The bottom-line, if we live with love in our hearts and we realize this to be an infinite source, it shines positive light not only into our lives but the lives of those whom we connect with, manifest “I-Thou” relationships!