Martin Buber showed me the light

Martin Buber showed me the light.

Martin Buber was a philosopher on education. Now, that sounds slightly dull but, truly, it is not. If we take the point of view that education occurs every day of our lives through nearly every relationship then really he educates on relationships.

He was declared an exceptional teacher by his students (and you’d think they ought to know):

(He was) the greatest teacher of our generation. He was an educator in the true sense of the word and within the limits of his own definition of it. He did not try to impose a self-evident formula upon his pupils, but posed questions which forced them to find their own answers. He did not want his pupils to follow him docilely, but to take their own individual paths


The right way to teach, he said, was ‘the personal example springing spontaneously and naturally from the whole man’. This meant that the teacher should constantly examine his conscience. Indeed, every man should do this; but a teacher most of all, as he could not teach others if his own example was flawed.


What struck me while reading through some of Buber’s philosophies was his extraction of the term ‘dialogue’. Dialogue is what occurs between people.

There are three types of dialogue:

Technical (based on the need to acquire an objective understanding)

Monologue (men talking to themselves really, while pretending to talk to another) (this happens most of the time)

Genuine (meeting of souls, ‘I-Thou can be spoken only with the whole being’ (Buber 1958, 24). It is turning towards the other, is not found by seeking, but by grace

Too often (most often) our interactions with each other revolve around monologue. I say my monologue while you barely listen and then you say your monologue while I barely listen. I might seem to agree but my thoughts are still my own and your thoughts hardly affect mine. This is not true conversation, but it is what people often call dialogue, this is how people usually relate.

Buber’s take on dialogue firstly involves the important step of inclusion, which is not empathy, it is the ability to extend oneself and experience an event from the point of view of oneself as well as of the other at the same point in time, he called it developing a ‘dual sensation’.

What Buber is essentially prescribing as true dialogue is a connection of souls. He talks much of the in-between, what is in-between our words, what is in-between two people, he talks of walking the path where ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ becomes ‘we’.

Towards the end of his life he valued highly the state of silence, attentive silence where there was space, space to feel and to know.

I have seen the light because I used to be quite good at finding the in-between and connecting with ‘the divine’, and also I felt I was better able to reach the hearts of other people, or perhaps it was that my heart was involved in the connection more than it is today.

Over the years I’ve lost a little of this. I’ve become a lot more concerned with my own opinion and so I’ve become too monologous for my liking. (Would it be accurate to say that I lost my heart behind all my head knowledge? Perhaps)

I’ve lost too much dialogue in life.

There is not enough silence.

Actually I found this occurring more and more after having kids. I had to talk more with children (give instruction etc) and I had less time to talk adult to adult, and even less time to find space. When I met with friends I just regurgitated information or blurted out everything I’d not been able to all week or month or however long.

Sometimes I stepped back from myself and asked: ‘is this me?’

It was a different me.

I have also stepped into a realm of head knowledge, both through discussing the things my husband likes to discuss and through university studies. I am glad about this, but it has made me a little opinionated….

now, I am pretty happy to be opinionated about some things. I am so passionate about human beings treatment of this planet and its other inhabitants (both human and other) that I find it hard to see any greys (though I am realising that there are differences of ways here). And there are a bunch of ethical issues that I am pretty black and white about. I am anti-corporation and I despise global markets and abuse of military power….etc etc. blah blah. You get the picture.

But in all this lambasting there are people.

There are the people involved.

There are the people listening to me.

There are still the people around me.

And while it’s good to take a moral standpoint, it’s even more important to create a silence for truth (of heart) to emerge, to create with words and with silence an atmosphere of love and acceptance and stillness.

I’m going to have to rediscover this stillness, I’m going to have to still myself and my busy mind to get there.

But I like this in-betweenness, I get it and I want it.

*This is personal, but I feel it’s an important truth/philosophy/understanding to share. Maybe you will relate? In the quest for a pared back, less consumerist life, one that does not buy into some of our unchallenged Western ideas of ‘a good life’, I feel it is important to raise this issue as, surely, it is relationship that lies at the heart of meaningful living and understanding of ourselves.


5 thoughts on “Martin Buber showed me the light

  1. Hey Jez! Didn’t know you were on wordpress. Thanks. :) Also learning about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, will write a bit about him too, another amazing fellow!

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