Dialogue is at the Heart of the Human

Dialogue is at the heart of the human.  Without it, we are not fully formed – there is a yawning abyss inside.  With it, we have the possibility of our uniqueness, and our most human qualities emerging.” (Hycner and Jacobs, 1995, p.ix)

It seems we live in a world in which the importance of relationship with others is a long forgotten distant memory.  Caught up in the distractions that life throws at us, it seems we have lost the innate knowing of how to sit with those around us and really see or appreciate them for the unique human being that they are.  How often do we sit and try to really understand how life is for someone at any given moment?  How much do we recognise and open ourselves up to the uniqueness or differences of others and truly celebrate this?  What happens when we do open ourselves up in this way?

The theme of relationality has been growing in the therapeutic world and is something that I feel quite passionate about.  I believe that relationship is healing but we have mostly forgotten how to be in relationship with one another….and I don’t mean just catching up for a coffee and a gossip!

Martin Buber (1958) was a philosopher who is known for his philosophy on I-Thou dialogue, which is an important aspect of being able to live relationally in the world. Although the general use of the term dialogue refers to a conversation between two people, in philosophical terms, the meaning lies deeper than this – it is an existential encounter in which two people meet one another as two separate human beings and are affected and changed by the other in this meeting and through what evolves in their relationship.   Dialogue includes but is not limited to speech. It includes particular qualities that leave the encounter open to affect through other means, for example, a shared silence, a look, a touch or some shared experience (Yontef, 2002).

Something special occurs when two people meet one another through dialogue.  For me, something stirs deep within me in these moments, it is something I recognise and innately know, yet paradoxically, feels unfamiliar and rare within the context of my busy life and the speed with which I move through it.  Dialogue is a meeting where authenticity and uniqueness are celebrated and new experiences are created in what occurs between me and the other.  I believe it is through dialogue that I experience my sense of connectedness and relatedness in the world.

In Martin Buber’s (1958) concept of I-Thou, he proposed two different ways of relating in the world.  One form constitutes an I-Thou way of relating, which means being open and present in relationship with the other and seeing them in their uniqueness.  When an I-Thou meeting takes place, one is truly connected in the relationship with the other and surrenders to what takes place between.  The second form constitutes an I-It way of relating, which means seeing the other more objectively and placing them within a context of place, time, thoughts, ideas and reflections.  When this occurs, the goal or purpose for which the other can be put to use becomes figural, rather than the person themselves.

I-Thou and I-It form the polarities of relating within the dialogic relationship.  Both are fundamental for the process of relating and living.  Part of our human existence, and often our existential struggle, is living with the natural tension that exists between togetherness and separateness. For a healthy existence, we need to be able to move between the two (Hycner, 1985, Kerr & Bowen, 1988).  The rhythm of dialogue involves a moving back and forth between I-Thou and I-It moments, however, it is the creation of a space for the dialogic attitude to take place that creates a playground of possibilities for experiencing the relational realm, seeing what arises in the space between and exploring how both parties are impacted and are changed by the process.

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