I loved Robert’s post last week on dissolving the subject-object dichotomy. It got me to thinking about how we can move from subject-object (I-it) relations to subject-subject (I-Thou) relations with other people. One thing that occurred to me is that simply getting to know other people better—especially people we have tended to view as objects getting in the way of us as subjects—is one way to do that. With that in mind, I want to tell you the story of mi amigo Jorge.
Well, that’s not what I originally called him. My original name for him was some version of “that annoying guy next door.” He’s a young man who lives with his parents and whose window is directly across from the window of the study where I do my work. And as long as I’ve been here, over five years now, he’s had the habit of playing English-language rock and pop music rather loudly (with window open) and singing along in just about the worst singing voice imaginable. To be fair, he doesn’t do it that often, and so I’ve let it slide. Even so, to me he’s been pretty much just a noisy object getting in the way of me—the precious subject—getting my work done in peace.
But my perception of him changed dramatically last week. The change started with one of those seemingly random events that end up having bigger-than-expected consequences: Patricia and I were ordering burgers at the neighborhood burger place, and a young man walked in. When he spoke up to give his order, I immediately recognized that voice. Well, it turned out that he recognized my voice too, because just as I had heard him singing from his window, so he had heard me speaking English from mine. (I guess my voice carries too!)
At any rate, we all started talking as we were waiting for our burgers. We introduced ourselves, and this was when I learned his name was Jorge. Jorge said he was picking up burgers for his family. I told him laughingly that I’d heard him singing to English-language music. This led to us talking about what musicians we liked (Queen, the Beatles, Elton John, etc.) We joked about which of our respective countries’ presidents was worse (Mexican president Peña Nieto is extremely unpopular here, but Trump even more so). And we talked about movies we liked (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.).
Jorge also told us that he has a little home business creating custom-designed t-shirts. Our earlier talk about Star Wars then inspired Patricia to ask him if he could create a shirt that she wanted to have: a shirt with the Star Wars font that says “Stop Wars.” He said that he could do it, and so we placed an order for four of these unique shirts. Jorge said he would have the shirts ready in a few days. Then my and Patricia’s burger order was ready, so we shook hands with our new friend and left.
In a few days, Jorge called out to me from his window: “¡Hola Greg!”—the first time either of us had ever spoken to the other from our adjacent windows. I called out in response, “¡Hola, amigo! ¿Cómo estás?” In a few minutes, he came over to deliver the shirts. They turned out great, as you can see from the picture accompanying this post. All of us shot the breeze for a few more minutes, and then Jorge left, with our promise that we would recommend his services to anyone who needed a custom-made t-shirt. He definitely has a good thing going.
Through this whole process, that annoying young man with the terrible singing voice was transformed into mi amigo Jorge. Once he was just an object impinging on my eardrums, but now he is a subject like me, a holy brother, a person with hopes and dreams and opinions and hobbies and people he loves. Of course, I knew this in an abstract way before ever meeting him, but as a result of meeting him, I now know it in a concrete and heartfelt way. We now have a subject-subject relationship.
Of course, we can’t personally meet all of the other people in the world. In fact, we can’t meet very many of them. But I think we can remind ourselves that all people, whether we’ve met them or not, are indeed our brothers and sisters with their own hopes and dreams and needs and loves, subjects in their own right. This is even true of those people whom we wouldn’t like if we were to meet them. All of them are worthy of our love, in whatever form we are guided to give it. Our relationship with them is subject-subject, I-Thou.
I’m trying to remember this as I encounter people or even think of them throughout the day, and I encourage you to do the same. Can you think of someone whom you tend to regard in a subject-object way? Can you think of someone whom, whether an acquaintance or not, you regard as an annoyance, as an object that is not properly serving you, the subject? I encourage you to remember that this individual is indeed a full-fledged person, a subject like you, a person whom you might even like and connect with if you were to meet, a person whom you can love in your heart even if that doesn’t happen. This person, as Robert said in his post last week, is what it’s all about. And to bring back the main topic of this recent series of posts: How might the Golden Rule guide you to treat him or her?