Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Human Development 5

5. The Reality of the Narrow Ridge
Cliffs of Moher, June, 2008
If anything expresses Buber’s existentialism in a nutshell it is this potent image of “narrow ridge” which he uses in his essay What is Man? (1938).   The full quotation runs thus:

I have occasionally described my standpoint to my friends as the "narrow ridge” I wanted by this to express that I did not rest on the broad upland of a system that includes a series of sure statements about the absolute, but on a narrow rocky ridge between the gulfs where there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed. [1]

    The phrase “narrow ridge” seems to me to catch at once the lived quality of Buber’s life as well as the existential thrust of his thought.  It also captures the sheer insecurity of the human condition and its problematic state as he both lived it and reflected upon it. Buber’s “narrow ridge” is no “happy middle ground”  It is a dialogical state where one encounters life in all its wholeness, where one is open to be changed in that encounter with the other in the authenticity of one’s own being.  It embraces the good and the evil, the white and the black and the myriads of shades in between.  Roger’s “in-between” space, I argue, is no “narrow ridge” but rather a more spacious and commodious consultation room where one can rest somewhat less troubled.
6. Conclusion
    Dialogue can often be unpredictable, somewhat unruly and even sometimes uncontrollable as is evidenced say, for example, in the dialogue leading by way of seemingly unending hours of encounter with the opposing side up to the watershed of The Good Friday Agreement in Belfast in April 1998.  It leads us into an in-between space where we encounter one another in our heights and in our depths; in our greatness and in our littleness; in our strengths and in our weaknesses; in the sheer vulnerability of our naked truth.  It leaves us open to change and to be changed, to grow in acceptance (confirmation/recognition) of self and of others.  Whatever about the divergences we outlined above, we find that the convergences between Buber and Rogers have major implications for our cherishing of one another and for our fundamental well being as we seek to negotiate our authentic path through life.  The Rogerian core conditions and Buber’s theory of encounter as an I-Thou relationship essentially allow the person of the other to flourish whether that be in a hospital bed where hopefully the medical personnel will not "default to mere competent professionalism, forgetting to talk directly to the scared flesh-and-blood man bearing the disease"[2] or in a classroom, or courtroom or at home with our loved ones.  We have much to be thankful for to these two great exponents of well being in the form of dialogical encounter and positive psychology for mapping the territory of human relationships and showing us what may be possible if only we have the courage to encounter the other in our and their authentic truth.

[1] Buber, Between Man and Man (1979,  223)

[2] Quoted in Scott et al (2009, 1-2).  The quotation is attributed to New York Times editor Dana Jennings.


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