Report on ACCEPT Conference

Report by Mary Montaut on the ACCEPT Conference on Martin Buber’s Life and Work held in Trinity College, Dublin on October 29th and 30th, 1993.

This conference, held under the joint aegis of the Department of Higher Education at Trinity and the Association for Community Counselling and Psychological Training (ACCEPT), focused particularly on the educational and therapeutic aspects of Buber’s philosophy. A pupil and colleague of Buber’s, Professor Kalman Yaron (Emeritus Professor of Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) delivered the keynote paper on the Dialogical Philosophy of Martin Buber. It rests on the idea that “the human being is doomed to solitude until another person takes his hand and listens to his story.” At the centre of his philosophy is the “I-Thou” relationship which may exist between two people, or between a person and God, and which contrasts with the “mismeeting” when they may fail to hear each other fully. Professor Yaron gave examples of each – the mismeeting when Buber failed to connect with the young man who subsequently committed suicide and, conversely, the vital friendship which Professor Yaron had established when he performed an important service for a Palestinian during the Six Day War, which in turn gave rise to his continuing work towards peace.

Professor Yaron explained Buber’s concept of “Homo dialogus”, which distinguishes primarily between the “I/Thou” and the “I/it” types of dialogue. “Obviously, genuine dialogue based on mutuality can only occur between autonomous partners who choose to meet one another,” he said. He described Buber’s meeting with Carl Rogers in America, where the philosopher revealed that “he had to assist others to find their unique per­sonal direction, even against themselves.” This genuine dialogue between partners presupposes a “primary distance” between them, a good example being in the dynamics of psychotherapy where “distance is needed for objec­tive judgement as well as proximity in order not to “mismeet” the flashing moments of grace.” It is important that the “I” of the therapist does not merge with the “I” of the other. Professor Yaron proposed that “the right attitude of the therapist is to retain a position of “aloneness-togetherness”, in which he can simultaneously be with his patient and with himself.”

Later in his lecture, the Professor returned to the theme of difference, saying that the idea of dialogue does not contravene real differences, clashes of interest etc., but instead “enables each of the parties in confrontation to see the reality from the point of view of the other, without forfeiting his own outlook.” He especially applied this to the need for dialogue in politics, citing again the Arab-Israeli conflict, but in the context of his presence in Ireland it would be tempting to see the same lesson here for ourselves with regard to the North.