OPINION: Learning to live in relation to others

OPINION: Learning to live in relation to others

By Rabbi Malcolm Cohen 

Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

There are many things I’ve had to get used to here in the United States – one of them is living far away from my family, specifically my parents.

My wife and I have a weekend ritual that includes Skyping our parents. All that seems to separate the two parties in the conversation is the width of a computer screen. In reality, there are thousands of miles of rivers, mountains and oceans that separate them.

However, even though they cannot reach out and touch the person on the other side of the screen, this interaction is still precious and valuable. In reality, my kids are fuller and more complete versions of themselves when they are in regular contact with their grandparents, albeit through the computer.

That’s because all real living is meeting. All real, meaningful, human experience is with others. Where did the phrase ‘all real living is meeting’ come from? I believe it stems from philosopher Martin Buber.

One way that Buber looked at the world was by splitting it into two ways of living. You can either live in relation or irrelation. Living in relation you see other people as unique, wonderful beings that can enhance your life. Living in irrelation you just see other people as objects from which you can get stuff or use. You can only grow and develop, according to Buber, once you have learned to live in relation with others.

Without living in relation to others, you aren’t truly living. Today, technology, smart phones, tablets and computers can help the connection between us. But there have been a raft of articles in the past few years about how people speak to each other less – how a whole family can go to a restaurant and all be on their phones instead of interacting. It does not have to be all or nothing.

Buber had it right when he said “all real living is meeting”.

If he was alive today, he’d agree that even Skype and FaceTime can feed this ideal.

• Malcolm Cohen is Rabbi at Temple Sinai in Las Vegas

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