Falling into the I-it

by Mark Votava


I have learned in my life that it is so easy to objectify others.  It is so easy to use others and trample them to get what I want out of life.  Often times I am believing in my own narratives of self-preservation over love.  Labeling and characterization have been problematic for me as I have let myself lose the sense of the image of humanity in others.

Maybe all of this labeling and characterization is because of my own insecurities about myself.  I want to pretend that I am strong, but maybe I not.  I want to pretend that I know who I am, but maybe I don’t.

  • Falling from the I-thou to the I-it

Walker Percy says in his book Signposts in a Strange Land, “If I do conceive you as a something in the world rather than a co-celebrant of the world, I fall from the I-thou to the I-it.  Yet I am not able to dispose of you as finally as I dispose of shoes and ships and sealing wax.  There remains your stare, which may not be symbolized.  If I am determined to dispose of you by formulation, I had better not look at you.”

  • Becoming co-celebrants of the world

When we fall into the I-it relationship we lose sight of the image of humanity in one another. We are all to be “co-celebrants of the world” as the body of Christ together in everyday life. If we can’t do this, we shouldn’t be in relationship with one another.  We can’t be in relationship with one another when we do this.

  • Doing away with objectifying others

There will be no relational revelations among us when this happens in the parish.  The communal imagination restores the I-thou to our relationships where we can touch the image of our common humanity.  We should do away with objectifying others.

  • Suppressing the image of humanity within others

We limit others when we try to suppress the image of humanity within them.  Henri Nouwen, who gave up the academic life as a professor at Harvard University to live at L’Arche Daybreak as a friend to the physically disabled,  writes, “Characterization is common but narrowing.  Labeling is always limited.  It reveals a lot about our own insecurities and gives us a false understanding of the real nature of our neighbors.”

  • Characterization and labeling keep us from one another

Labels keep us from knowing others in the fullness of their humanity.  Characterization and labeling are anti-grace.  They are cruel and mean, unkind and devaluing.

  • Becoming healers instead of destroyers of one another

There needs to be a change that happens deep within us so we don’t continue to create the same I-it relational context that is so prevalent in our culture.  We need the communal imagination to see the image of our humanity and to be healers instead of destroyers of one another.  Labeling  and characterization will always harm our relationships in the parish. They block any relational revelations that could possibly happen between us.

Why do we objectify others?