Chapter 14: The Life of Dialogue

Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue
by Maurice S. Friedman

Chapter 14: The Life of Dialogue

The fundamental fact of human existence, according to Buber’s anthropology, is man with man. But the sphere in which man meets man has been ignored because it possesses no smooth continuity. Its experience has been annexed to the soul and to the world, so that what happens to an individual can be distributed between outer and inner impressions. But when two individuals ‘happen’ to each other, then there is an essential remainder which is common to them, but which reaches out beyond the special sphere of each. That remainder is the basic reality, the ‘sphere of between’ (das Zwischenmenschliche). (Between Man and Man, op. cit., ‘What Is Man?’, pp. 202-205) The participation of both partners is in principle indispensable to this sphere, whether the reciprocity be fully actual or directly capable of being realized through completion or intensification. The unfolding of this sphere Buber calls ‘the dialogical.’ The psychological, that which happens within the souls of each, is only the secret accompaniment to the dialogue. The meaning of this dialogue is found in neither one nor the other of the partners, nor in both taken together, but in their interchange.

The essential problematic of the sphere of the between, writes Buber, is the duality of being and seeming. We must distinguish between two different types of human existence, one of which proceeds from the essence -- from what one really is -- the other of which proceeds from an image -- from what one wishes to appear to be. Like the I-Thou and the I-It relations, these types are generally mixed with one another since no man lives from pure essence and none from pure appearance. None the less, some men may be basically characterized as ‘essence men’ (Wesensmensch) and some as ‘image men’ (Bildmensch). The essence man looks at the other as one to whom one gives oneself. His glance is spontaneous and unaffected. He is not uninfluenced by the desire to make himself understood, but he has no thought for the conception of himself that he might awaken in the beholder. The image man, in contrast, is primarily concerned with what the other thinks of him. With the help of man’s ability to allow a certain element of his being to appear in his glance, he produces a look that is meant to affect the other as a spontaneous expression reflecting a personal being of such and such qualities. There is, in addition, a third realm of ‘genuine appearance’ in which a young person imitates a heroic model and becomes something of what he imitates. Here the mask is a real mask and not a deception. But where the appearance arises from a lie and is permeated by it, the ‘sphere of the between’ is threatened in its very existence.

Whatever the word ‘truth’ may mean in other spheres, in the realm between man and man it means that one imparts oneself to the other as what one is. This is not a question of saying to the other everything that occurs to one, but of allowing the person with whom one communicates to partake of one’s being. It is a question of the authenticity of what is between men, without which there can be no authentic human existence. The origin of the tendency toward appearance is found in man’s need for confirmation. It is no easy thing to be confirmed by the other in one’s essence; therefore, one looks to appearance for aid. To give in to this tendency is the real cowardice of man, to withstand it is his real courage. One must pay dearly at times for essential life, but never too dearly. ‘I have never met any young man who seemed to me hopelessly bad,’ writes Buber. It is only the successive layers of deception that give the illusion of individuals who are ‘image men’ by their very nature. ‘Man is, as man, redeemable.’

True confirmation means that one confirms one’s partner as this existing being even while one opposes him. I legitimize him over against me as the one with whom I have to do in real dialogue, and I may then trust him also to act towards me as a partner. To confirm him in this way I need the aid of ‘imagining the real.’ This is no intuitive perception but a bold swinging into the other which demands the intensest action of my being, even as does all genuine fantasy, only here the realm of my act ‘is not the all-possible’ but the particular, real person who steps up to meet me, the person whom I seek to make present as just so and not otherwise in all his wholeness, unity, and uniqueness. I can only do this as a partner, standing in a common situation with the other, and even then my address to the other may remain unanswered and the dialogue may die in seed.

If it is the interaction between man and man which makes possible authentic human existence, it follows that the precondition of such authentic existence is that each overcomes the tendency toward appearance, that each means the other in his personal existence and makes him present as such, and that neither attempts to impose his own truth or view on the other. It would be mistaken to speak here of individuation alone. Individuation is only the indispensable personal stamp of all realization of human being. The self as such is not ultimately essential but the created meaning of human existence again and again fulfills itself as self. The help that men give each other in becoming a self leads the life between men to its height. The dynamic glory of the being of man is first bodily present in the relation between two men each of whom in meaning the other also means the highest to which this person is called and serves the fulfillment of this created destiny without wishing to impose anything of his own realization on the other.

In genuine dialogue the experiencing senses and the real fantasy which supplements them work together to make the other present as whole and one. For this dialogue to be real, one must not only mean the other, but also bring oneself, and that means say at times what one really thinks about the matter in question. One must make the contribution of one’s spirit without abbreviation and distortion: everything depends here upon the legitimacy of what one has to say. Not holding back is the opposite of letting oneself go, for true speech involves thought as to the way in which one brings to words what one has in mind. A further precondition of genuine dialogue is the overcoming of appearance. If, even in an atmosphere of genuine conversation, the thought of one’s effect as speaker outweighs the thought of what one has to say, then one inevitably works as a destroyer. One irreparably deforms what one has to say: it enters deformed into the conversation, and the conversation itself is deformed. Because genuine conversation is an ontological sphere which constitutes itself through the authenticity of being, every intrusion of appearance can injure it.

Genuine conversation is most often found in the dialogue between two persons, but it also occurs occasionally in a dialogue of several voices. Not everyone present has to speak for this dialogue to be genuine, but no one can be there as a mere observer. Each must be ready to share with the others, and no one who really takes part can know in advance that he will not have something to say. (Martin Buber, ‘Elements of the Interhuman,’ translated by Ronald Gregor Smith, Psychiatry, Vol. XX, No. 2 [May 1957], pp. 105-113.)

Genuine dialogue can thus be either spoken or silent. Its essence lies in the fact that ‘each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them.’ The essential element of genuine dialogue, therefore, is ‘seeing the other’ or ‘experiencing the other side.’ There is no human situation which is so rotten and God-forsaken that the meeting with otherness cannot take place within it. The ordinary man can, and at times does, break through ‘from the status of the dully-tempered disagreeableness, obstinacy, and contraryness’ in which he lives into an effective reality. This reality is the simple quantum satis, or sufficient amount, ‘of that which this man in this hour of his life is able to fulfill and to receive -- if he gives himself.’

No factory and no office is so abandoned by creation that a creative glance could not fly up from one working-place to another, from desk to desk, a sober and brotherly glance which guarantees the reality of creation which is happening -- quantum satis. And nothing is so valuable a service of dialogue between God and man as such an unsentimental and unreserved exchange of glances between two men in an alien place.

It is also possible for a leader of business to fill his business with dialogue by meeting the men with whom he works as persons. Even when he cannot meet them directly, he can be ‘inwardly aware, with a latent and disciplined fantasy, of the multitude of these persons,’ so that when one of them does step before him as an individual, he can meet him ‘not as a number with a human mask but as a person.’ (Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue,’ pp. 20-24, 27, 36-39; Kampf um Israel, op. cit., p. 279.)

‘Experiencing the other side’ means to feel an event from the side of the person one meets as well as from one’s own side. It is an inclusiveness which realizes the other person in the actuality of his being, but it is not to be identified with ‘empathy,’ which means transposing oneself into the dynamic structure of an object, hence ‘the exclusion of one’s own concreteness, the extinguishing of the actual situation of life, the absorption in pure aestheticism of the reality in which one participates.’

Inclusion is the opposite of this. It is the extension of one’s own concreteness, the fulfillment of the actual situation of life, the complete presence of the reality in which one participates. Its elements are, first, a relation, of no matter what kind, between two persons, second, an event experienced by them in common, in which at least one of them actively participates, and, third, the fact that this one person, without forfeiting anything of the felt reality of his activity, at the same time lives through the common event from the standpoint of the other. (Ibid., ‘Education’, p. 96 f.)

Experiencing the other side is the essence of all genuine love. The ‘eros’ of monologue is a display or enjoyment of subjective feelings. The eros of dialogue, on the other hand, means the turning of the lover to the beloved ‘in his otherness, his independence, his self-reality,’ and ‘with all the power of intention’ of his own heart. He does not assimilate into his own soul what lives and faces him, but he vows it faithfully to himself and himself to it.

A man caresses a woman, who lets herself be caressed. Then let us assume that he feels the contact from two sides -- with the palm of his hand still, and also with the woman’s skin. The twofold nature of the gesture, as one that takes place between two persons, thrills through the depth of enjoyment in his heart and stirs it. If he does not deafen his heart he will have -- not to renounce the enjoyment but -- to love.... The one extreme experience makes the other person present to him for all time. A transfusion has taken place after which a mere elaboration of subjectivity is never again possible or tolerable to him. (Ibid., ‘Dialogue’ p. 29 f., ‘Education’, p. 96 f.)

The ‘inclusion’ of the other takes place still more deeply and fully in marriage, which Buber describes as ‘the exemplary bond’ and ‘decisive union.’ He who has entered into marriage has been in earnest ‘with the fact that the other is,’ with the fact that he ‘cannot legitimately share in the Present Being without sharing in the being of the other.’ If this marriage is real it leads to a ‘vital acknowledgment of many-faced otherness -- even in the contradiction and conflict with it.’ (Ibid., ‘The Question to the Single One,’p. 60 f.)

The crises of marriage and the overcoming of them which rises out of the organic depths lead men to recognize in the body politic in general that other persons have not only a different way of thinking. but ‘a different perception of the world, a different recognition and order of meaning, a different touch from the regions of existence, a different faith, a different soil.’ To affirm this difference in the midst of conflict without relaxing the real seriousness of the conflict is the way in which we can from time to time touch on the other’s ‘truth’ or ‘untruth,’ ‘justice’ or ‘injustice.’

‘Love without dialogic, without real outgoing to the other, reaching to the other, and companying with the other, the love remaining with itself -- this is called Lucifer.’ This ‘love’ is evil because it is monological. The monological man is not aware of the ‘otherness’ of the other, but instead tries to incorporate the other into himself. The basic movement of the life of monologue is not turning away from the other but ‘reflexion’ (Rückbiegung), bending back on oneself. ‘Reflexion’ is not egotism but the withdrawal from accepting the other person in his particularity in favour of letting him exist only as one’s own experience, only as a part of oneself. Through this withdrawal ‘the essence of all reality begins to disintegrate.’ (Ibid., ‘Dialogue,’ pp. 21-24)

Renewed contact with reality cannot be made through the direct attempt to ‘remove’ or ‘deny’ the self nor even through despair at one’s selfishness, for these entail another and related form of monologue: preoccupation with one’s self. The soul does not have its object in itself, nor is its knowing, purifying, and perfecting itself for its own sake ‘but for the sake of the work which it is destined to perform upon the world.’ One must distinguish here between that awareness which turns one in on oneself and that which enables one to turn to the other. The latter is not only essential to the life of dialogue, but is dialogical in its very nature: it is the awareness of ‘the signs’ that continually address us in everything that happens. These signs are simply what happens when we enter into relation with occurrences as really having meaning for us. ‘Each of us is encased in an armour whose task it is to ward off signs,’ for we are afraid that to open ourselves to them means annihilation. We perfect this defence apparatus from generation to generation until we can assure ourselves that the world is there to be experienced and used as we like but that nothing is directed at us, nothing required of us. (Martin Buber, The Way of Man according to the Teachings of Hasidism [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950: Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1951], pp. 14 f., 36 ff.; Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue,’ p. 10 f.)

In shutting off our awareness of ‘the signs’ we are shutting off our awareness of the address of God, for He who speaks in the signs is the ‘Lord of the Voice,’ the eternal Thou. Every man hides, like Adam, to avoid rendering accounts. ‘To escape responsibility for his life, he turns existence into a system of hideouts’ and ‘enmeshes himself more and more deeply in perversity.’ The lie displaces ‘the undivided seriousness of the human person with himself and all his manifestations’ and destroys the good will and reliability on which men’s life in common rests. The external conflict between man and man has its roots in the inner contradiction between thought, speech, and action. One’s failure to say what one means and do what one says ‘confuses and poisons, again and again and in increasing measure,’ the situation between oneself and the other man. Unaware that the roots of the condict are in our inner contradiction, we resist beginning with ourselves and demand that the other change at the same time. ‘But just this perspective, in which a man sees himself only as an individual contrasted with other individuals, and not as a genuine person whose transformation helps towards the transformation of the world, contains the fundamental error.’ (Between Man and Man, p. 14 f.; The Way of Man, pp. 12 f., 30 ff.; Martin Buber, Right and Wrong, trans. by Ronald Gregor Smith [London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1952], ‘Against the Generation of the Lie’ [Psalm 12] pp. 11-16 [also found in Martin Buber, Good and Evil, Two Interpretations {New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953}], pp. 7-14, which book includes both Right and Wrong and Images of Good and Evil, trans. by Michael Bullock [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952]; Martin Buber, Hasidism [New York: The Philosophical Library, 1948], ‘The Beginnings of Hasidism,’ pp. 9-12.)

To begin with one’s own soul may seem senseless to one who holds himself bankrupt. But one cannot honestly hold oneself bankrupt until one has taken a genuine inventory of one’s personality and life, and when one has done so, one usually discovers hitherto unsuspected reserves. ‘The man with the divided, complicated, contradictory soul is not helpless: the core of his soul, the divine force in its depths, is capable of . . . binding the conflicting forces together, amalgamating the diverging elements.’ This unification of the soul is never final. Again and again temptation overcomes the soul, and ‘again and again innate grace arises from out of its depths and promises the utterly incredible: you can become whole and one.’ (Martin Buber, ‘Erkenutnis tut not,’ Almanach des Schocken Verlags auf das Jahr 5696 [1935-36] [Berlin], pp. 11-14; The Way of Man, pp. 12 ff., 25 f., 31; Images of Good and Evil, p. 68 f. [Good and Evil, p. 127 f.]). This is no easy promise, however, but one demanding a total effort of the soul for its realization:

It is a cruelly hazardous enterprise, this becoming a whole.... Everything in the nature of inclinations, of indolence, of habits, of fondness for possibilities which has been swashbuckling within us, must be overcome, and overcome, not by elimination, by suppression.... Rather must all these mobile or static forces, seized by the soul’s rapture, plunge of their own accord, as it were, into the mightiness of decision and dissolve within it. (Images, p.69 f. (Good and Evil, p. 128 f.)

It is no wonder, writes Buber, that these situations frequently terminate in a persistent state of indecision. Yet even if the effort of unification is not entirely successful, it may still lay the groundwork for future success. ‘The unification must be accomplished before a man undertakes some unusual work,’ but any ordinary work that a man does with a united soul acts in the direction of new and greater unification and leads him, even if by many detours, to a steadier unity than he had before. ‘Thus man ultimately reaches a point where he can rely upon his soul, because its unity is now so great that it overcomes contradiction with effortless ease.’ In place of his former great efforts all that is now necessary is a relaxed vigilance. (Ibid., p. 70 [p. 129] The Way of Man, p. 25 ff.)

In Hasidism ‘the holiest teaching is rejected if it is found in someone only as a content of his thinking.’ In religious reality a person becomes a whole. In philosophizing, in contrast, there is a totalization but no wholeness, for thinking overwhelms all the faculties of the person. ‘In a great act of philosophizing even the finger-tips think -- but they no longer feel.’ This contrast must not be understood as one between feeling and thought. The wholeness of the religious person includes thought ‘as an autonomous province but one which no longer strives to absolutize its autonomy.’ One cannot substitute feeling for this personal wholeness since feeling at most only indicates that one is about to become whole, and it often merely gives the illusion of wholeness. (Hasidism, ‘The Place of Hasidism in the History of Religion,’ p. 192, cf. ‘The Foundation Stone,’ p. S6 f., ‘Spirit and Body of the Hasidic Movement,’ pp. 88, 94; Eclipse of God, op. cit., ‘Religion and Philosophy,’ p. 60 f.; Martin Buber, Two Types of Faith, trans. by Norman P. Goldhawk [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951; New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952), p. 8.]) It is not the dominance of any one faculty but the unity of all faculties within the personality that constitutes the wholeness of man, and it is this that Buber calls ‘spirit.’

Spirit is not a late bloom on the tree Man, but what constitutes man.... Spirit ... is man’s totality that has become consciousness, the totality which comprises and integrates all his capacities, powers, qualities, and urges.... Spiritual life is nothing but the existence of man, in so far as he possesses that true human conscious totality. (Israel and the World, op. cit., ‘The power of the Spirit,’ p. 175.)

Man’s wholeness does not exist apart from real relationship to other beings. In I and Thou, as we have seen, Buber defines spirit in its human manifestation as ‘a response of man to his Thou.’ These two elements of wholeness and relation are invariably linked together in Buber’s mature thought. He defines the relation of trust, for example, as a contact of the entire being with the one in whom one trusts. He posits as the first axiom of the Bible that man is addressed by God in his life and as the second that the life of man is meant by God as a unit. And he couples the recognition that true freedom comes only from personal wholeness with the assertion that freedom is only of value as a springboard for responsibility and communion. The true person is again and again required to detach and shut himself off from others, but this attitude is alien to his innermost being: man wants openness to the world, he wants the company of others. (I and Thou, p. 39; Two Types of Faith, p. 8; Martin Buber, At the Turning (New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1952), ‘The Dialogue between Heaven and Earth,’ p. 53; Between Man and Man, ‘Education,’ p. 90 ff.; Martin Buber, ‘Remarks on Goethe’s Concept of Humanity,’ Goethe and the Modern Age, ed. by Arnold Bergstraesser [Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1950), p. 231 ff.]) Through relation the whole man shares in an absolute meaning which he cannot know in his life by himself.

Human life touches on absoluteness in virtue of its dialogical character, for in spite of his uniqueness man can never find, when he plunges to the depth of his life, a being that is whole in itself and as such touches on the absolute.... This other self may be just as limited and conditioned as he is; in being together the unlimited is experienced. (Between Man and Man, ‘What Is Man?’, p. 167 f.)

The child knows the Thou before it knows the separated I. ‘But on the height of personal existence one must truly be able to say I in order to know the mystery of the Thou in its whole truth.’ (Ibid., p.175) Thus partial relation precedes inner wholeness but full relation follows it.

Only the man who has become a Single One, a self, a real person, is able to have a complete relation of his life to the other self, a relation which is not beneath but above the problematic of the relations between man and man, and which comprises, withstands, and overcomes all this problematic situation. A great relation exists only between real persons. It can be strong as death, because it is stronger than solitude, because it . . . throws a bridge from self being to self-being across the abyss of dread of the universe. (Ibid., The Education of Character,’ p. 116 f.)

‘Not before a man can say I in perfect reality -- that is, finding himself,’ writes Buber, ‘can he in perfect reality say Thou -- that is, to God. And even if he does it in a community he can only do it "alone."’ Yet the saying of Thou to God must include the saying of Thou to the world and to men.

The real God lets no shorter line reach him than each man’s longest, which is the line embracing the world that is accessible to this man. For he, the real God, is the creator, and all beings stand before him in relation to one another in his creation, becoming useful in living with one another for his creative purpose. (Ibid., ‘The Question to the Single One,’ pp. 43, 50, 52, ‘What is Man?’ p. 171 f.)

The ‘Single One’ need not hold himself aloof from crowds. ‘The Man who is living with the body politic . . . is not bundled, but bound.’ He is bound in relation to the destiny of the crowd and does what he can to change the crowd into Single Ones. He takes up into his life the otherness which enshrouds him, but he takes it up ‘only in the form of the other . . . the other who meets him, who is sought, lifted out of the crowd, the "companion." The Single One passes his life in the body politic, for the body politic is ‘the reservoir of otherness’ -- ‘the basic structure of otherness, in many ways uncanny but never quite unholy or incapable of being hallowed, in which I and the others who meet me in my life are in-woven.’ (Ibid., ‘The Question of the Single One,’ pp. 61-65)

Thus Buber changes Kierkegaard’s category of the Single One (‘der Einzelne’) into the man for whom the relation to God includes all other relations without curtailing them. The essence of this new category is responsibility, and responsibility, for Buber, means responding -- hearing the unreduced claim of each particular hour in all its crudeness and disharmony and answering it out of the depths of one’s being. This responsibility does not exclude a man from membership in a group or community, but it means that due membership in a community includes a boundary to membership so that no group or person can hinder one’s perception of what is spoken or one’s answer from the ground of one’s being. This perception is not an ‘inner light’ from God that presents one the answer at the same time as the question. God tenders the situation, but the response comes from the ‘conscience’ -- not the routine, surface, discredited conscience but ‘the unknown conscience in the ground of being, which needs to be discovered ever anew.’ Something of God’s grace enters into this response, to be sure, but man cannot measure the share of grace in the answer. "Conscience" is human and can be mistaken, it is a thing of "fear and trembling," it can only try to hear.’ (Between Man and Man, ‘The Question to the Single One,’ pp. 54, 65-69. The final quotation is from a letter of August 18, 1952, from Professor Buber to the author.) None the less, if one responds as a whole person, one can have confidence in one’s response as one cannot have confidence in any objective knowledge or universal prescriptions of morality. ‘What is here called person is the very person who is addressed and who answers.’ The ‘Hinderer,’ or Satan, writes Buber, is the person who prompts one with an answer in such a way as to hinder one’s recognizing the situation presented in ‘the very ground where hearing passes into being.’ (Between Man and Man, The Question to the Single One,’ p.68 f.)

The ‘Single One,’ then, is the man whose aloneness means not only self-containment but a readiness to respond out of the depths of his being.

I call a great character one who by his actions and attitudes satisfies the claim of situations out of deep readiness to respond with his whole life, and in such a way that the sum of his actions and attitudes expresses at the same time the unity of his being in its willingness to accept responsibility. (Ibid., ‘The Education of Character,’ p. 114)

This unity of being also means readiness again to become the Single One when I-Thou becomes I-It. The Single One ‘must let himself be helped from time to time by an inner-wordly "monastery"’ which will not tear him away from relation but will prepare him for new meeting:

Our relations to creatures incessantly threaten to get incapsulated.... Every great bond of man ... defends itself vigorously against continually debouching into the infinite. Here the monastic forms of life in the world, the loneliness in the midst of life into which we turn as into hostelries, help us to prevent the connection between the conditioned bonds and the one unconditioned bond from slackening.... The loneliness must know the quality of strictness, of a monastery’s strictness, in order to do its work. But it must never wish to tear us away from creatures, never refuse to dismiss us to them. (Ibid., ‘ the Question to the Single One.’ p. 54 f.)

To the extent that the soul achieves unification, it becomes aware of ‘direction’ and of itself as sent in quest of it. This awareness of direction is ultimately identical with the awareness of one’s created uniqueness, the special way to God that is realized in one’s relations with the world and men.

The humanly right is ever the service of the single person who realizes the right uniqueness purposed for him in his creation. In decision, taking the direction thus means: taking the direction toward the point of being at which, executing for my part the design which I am, I encounter the divine mystery of my created uniqueness, the mystery waiting for me. (Images of Good and Evil, pp. 68, 82 f. [Good and Evil, pp. 127, 142].)

‘Decision’ is here both the current decision about the immediate situation which confronts one and through this the decision with the whole being for God. ‘In the reality of existence all the so diverse decisions are merely variations on a single one, which is continually made afresh in a single direction.’ This single direction must itself be understood in a double sense as the direction toward the person purposed for one and the direction toward God. This dual understanding means nothing more than ‘a duality of aspects’ provided one understands by God something really other than oneself, the author of one’s created uniqueness that cannot be derived from within the world. Direction is apprehended through one’s inner awareness of what one is meant to be, for it is this that enables one to make a genuine decision. This is a reciprocal process, however, for in transforming and directing one’s undirected energies, one comes to recognize ever more clearly what one is meant to be. (Ibid., p. 81 f. (p. 126 f.)

One experiences one’s uniqueness as a designed or preformed one, intrusted to one for execution, yet everything that affects age participates in this execution. The person who knows direction responds with the whole of his being to each new situation with no other preparation than his presence and his readiness to respond. He is identical, therefore, with the Single One who becomes a whole person and goes out to relation with the Thou. ‘Direction is not meeting but going out to meet.’ It is not identical with dialogue, but it is, along with personal wholeness, a prerequisite of any genuine dialogue. It is also a product of dialogue in the sense that the awareness of direction comes into being only in the dialogue itself. One discovers the mystery waiting for one not in oneself but in the encounter with what one meets. Although ‘the one direction of the hour towards God . . . changes time and again by concretion,’ each moment’s new direction is the direction if reality is met in lived concreteness. (Images of Good and Evil,’ p. 82; Letter of August 18, 1952 [see p. 94, n. 1 above]; Between Man and Man, ‘The Question to the Single One,’ p. 78 f.)

The goal of creation that we are intended to fulfill is not an unavoidable destiny but something to which we are called and to which we are free to respond or not to respond. Our awareness of this calling is not a sense of what we may become in terms of our position in society nor is it a sense of what type of person we should develop into. ‘The purpose of my uniqueness may be felt more or less dimly, it cannot be sensed.’ (Letter of August 18, 1952.) Direction is neither conscious conception nor subconscious fantasy. It is the primal awareness of our unique way to God that lies at the very centre of our awareness of ourself as I. We cannot make direction more rationally comprehensible than this, for it is ultimately a mystery, even as are our freedom and our uniqueness to which it is integrally related.

Closely related to Buber’s concept of direction is the Biblical concept of emunah, or trust. Emunah is the perseverance of man ‘in a hidden but self-revealing guidance.’ This guidance does not relieve man of taking and directing his own steps, for it is nothing other than God’s making known that He is present. Emunah is the realization of one’s faith in the actual totality of one’s relationships to God, to one’s appointed sphere in the world, and to oneself. ‘By its very nature trust is substantiation of trust in the fullness of life in spite of the course of the world which is experienced.’ (Two Types of Faith, pp. 40, 170; cf. Right and Wrong [Good and Evil], ‘The Heart Determines, Psalm 73,’ ‘The Ways, Psalm 1.’) In this exclusion of a dualism between ‘life in the soul’ and ‘life in the world’ emunah brings together the wholeness of the Single One, the ‘direction’ of the man of true decision, and the relation with the concrete of the dialogical man.

He who lives the life of dialogue knows a lived unity: the unity of life, as that which once truly won is no more torn by any changes, not ripped asunder into the everyday creaturely life and the ‘deified’ exalted hours; the unity of unbroken, raptureless perseverance in concreteness, in which the word is heard and a stammering answer dared. (Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue,’ p.25)

The lived unity of the life of dialogue, born out of response to the essential mystery of the world, makes this response ever more possible.

The ‘sphere of the between,’ mutual confirmation, making the other present, overcoming appearance, genuine dialogue, experiencing the other side, personal wholeness, the Single One, responsibility, decision, direction, trust -- these are all aspects of the life of dialogue. This life is a part of our birthright as human beings, for only through it can we attain authentic human existence. But this birthright cannot be simply inherited, it must be earned. We must follow Buber in not underestimating the obstacles to the life of dialogue, but we must also follow him in refusing to magnify them into an inexorable fate.

The tendency toward appearance which mars the life of dialogue has its origin not only in the interdependence and need for confirmation that Buber has indicated, but also in the specific social structures that have arisen on this anthropological base: in the ordinary amenities of civilized life which make us habitually pretend toward others what we do not feel; in the institutionalization of social life which makes us tend to relate to others on the basis of our relative positions in these institutions; in the emphasis on prestige and authority which grows out of our social differentiations; in our inner divisions which make us unable to relate to others honestly because we cannot relate as whole persons; in our unawareness of the extent to which our values and attitudes arise, not from a genuine relation to truth, but from the social attitudes of the groups to which we belong.

To emphasize the hold of appearance on our lives is to point out how difficult and also how important it is to become a ‘Single One.’ This is especially so if one understands by the Single One not Kierkegaard’s man, who finds truth by separating himself from the crowd, but Buber’s man of the narrow ridge, who lives with others yet never gives up his personal responsibility nor allows his commitment to the group to stand in the way of his direct relationship to the Thou. Another product of the narrow ridge, one equally essential to the life of dialogue, is the realistic trust which recognizes the strength of the tendency toward appearance yet stands ready to deal with the other as a partner and to confirm him in becoming his real self. This open-eyed trust is at base a trust in existence itself despite the difficulties we encounter in making our human share of it authentic. It is the trust, in Buber’s words, that ‘man is, as man, redeemable.’