Every person walks into a relationship with her/his own life experiences. No one enters into someone’s life for no reason. Its reasons may be invisible to us but there are some purposes in our social engagements. One benefit of social engagement is to develop our own principles/ethics in life. We learn about our own personal and relational ethics/principles when we enter into life experiences of others. The richness of our life depends on the quality of relationships we are in. Relationships have significant influences on who we are and how we are with the Other.

Buber (1979) differentiates relationships focusing on the Other as “Thou” from those  viewing the Other as ‘It”. Those of us caught in the pattern of “I–It” relationship connect with the Other as an object. The Other as ‘It’ becomes a means to our own personal ends. The “I” is driven/directed by his/her own egocentric needs. The Other is set at a distance and the “I” don’t attempt to experience the Other’s side. The Other is absent as a person, as a being, in the relationship. The Other is a means to an end rather than being a partner in dialogue. The “I-It” relationship is monological and subjective rather than dialogical and inter-human.

In an “I- Thou” relationship, unlike “I – It”, a person turns toward the Other and confirms his or her being.  The “I- Thou” relationship is characterized by “mutuality, directness, present-ness, intensity, and ineffability” (Friedman, 1960).

Relationships collapse when people are trapped in an “I-It” relationship. “I- It” relationship doesn’t have the capacity to last and fulfill relational needs of parties. In the “I- It” engagement, we constantly search for another “It” to bring us joy and happiness; nothing seems to be enough. Treating and viewing the Other as “It” is a recipe for disaster which closes down potential venues to personal and relational growth. The only way out is our awareness to search for ways of reconnecting to our principles/ethics to re-connect with the Other in a new way.

We are able to transform an “I-It’ encounter to an “I-Thou” relationship.  What makes it possible lies in our ability to revise our ethics in the relationship; to become responsible to the Other. This is the only way to identification and reconstruction of our personal and relational ethics. This is a gateway to experiencing ourselves as “relational beings” (Gergen 2009). When we enter into the “I- Thou” relationship, we become part of an open ever-evolving process. There is no endpoint or a tangible goal. We become multi-dimensional and, then, larger than life.

Think about relationships that you are in. When thinking of the quality of your relationship with the Other person, how do you describe the Other person? Has the Other person become an “It” or “Thou”? There is a direct link between your problems in the relationship and you viewing the Other as “It”. Review your ethics and redraw the definition of your relationship with the Other. When doing so, you would be amazed to see what becomes possible to you.

Happy possibilities!

Tahereh Barati