16.40 Re-humanize yourself


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16/40 From the desk of Rabbi Brian




Re-Humanize Yourself

Martin Buber, a 20th century Jewish philosopher, is best known for calling attention to two types of human interactions: “I-it” and “I-Thou.”


According to Buber, “I-it” relationships are those in which we treat something as an “it,” a thing, a material object. How you treat a pencil or a printer represents an “I-it” relationship. (I would be surprised if someone had a different type of relationship with a pencil.) “I-it” is where you use the thing for whatever its intended purpose should be. You treat the “it” as an object to be utilized.

You’ve had a sense of being treated as an “it” any time someone is talking to you and you get the sense that you could be removed from the situation, another person be put in your place, and they wouldn’t change a word.

By contrast, “I-Thou” relationships are much holier – these take place when you relate to something in its entirety, rather than using it as a means to an end.

We get into trouble when we confuse the two.


When we treat things the way we should treat people,  


when we treat people the way that we should treat things,  

then we have problems.

Buber’s line of thinking suggests that for us to really experience the world, to be truly alive, and to be fully human, we need to experience more “I-Thou” moments and fewer “I-it” moments. (According to Buber, God – as he understood God – is the ultimate “Thou” with whom we all strive to have a relation.) Through our humanity, through our act of being human, we can become fully absorbed in “I-Thou” relationships – where we treat people as people, not as things, and thereby get a sense of God.

These relationships don’t only occur between ourselves and other people – they also occur within ourselves. Think about your own life and whether you’ve had an “I-it” or “I-Thou” experience within yourself. There may be times when you’ve used yourself, and there may be other times when you fully appreciated and accepted yourself.

The goal in “I-thou” relationships is to re-humanize ourselves by experiencing the full range of what it means to be human – flaws, anger, sadness, and all.

The goal

is to become  

more human,  

more real,  

more “I-Thou,”  

less “I-it.”

That being said, here’s an exercise for you to try.

Think of three things you do in the course of a week (you probably do them daily) that diminish your humanity and keep you from feeling truly human.

  1. Even though the following dehumanizes me and keeps me from feeling and being truly human, I nonetheless _________.
  2. Even though the following dehumanizes me and keeps me from feeling and being truly human, I nonetheless _________.
  3. Even though the following dehumanizes me and keeps me from feeling and being truly human, I nonetheless _________.

Now think of three things you do from time to time, which you could do more of, to make you feel really human.

  1. I feel more human when I ___________.
  2. I feel more human when I ___________.
  3. I feel more human when I ___________.

Here are my top answers in each category:

  • Even though the following dehumanizes me and keeps me from feeling and being truly human, I nonetheless judge others so I can feel superior.
  • I feel more human when I drop into genuine compassion.

 Spiritual-religious advice: Commit to not doing one of those dehumanizing things and to doing one of the things that makes you feel more human.

By us becoming more human, we’ll find more God – whatever that might mean to us.


With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian

(I feel compelled to mention the song Rehumanize Yourself by Sting and The Police. The lyrics preach this same idea, and the song title is where the title of this article comes from.)

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