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A Holistic Approach to Public Health: Martin Buber and the Good Society

Elizabeth Mackenzie, PhD, Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania Health System, 3535 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3309, 215-349-8484, emackenz@mail.med.upenn.edu

Theologian Martin Büber wrote that there are three spheres of human relation: “our life with nature,” “our life with men,” and “our life with spiritual beings.” According to Büber, “I-Thou relations” (characterized by sacredness, authenticity, and fluidity) in all spheres lead to a good society. I-It relations (stripped of their sacredness) produce a diseased society. Even though the vocabulary is quite difference, much of the accumulated scientific data indicates that both individual and societal health is enhanced by “I-Thou relations” in our life with nature, with persons, and with spirit. To translate: environmental awareness (“our life with nature”), social cohesion (“our life with men”), and spiritual intimacy (“our life with spiritual beings”) all have an enormous impact on well-being at both micro and macro levels. The way humans relate in each of these three areas manifests for good or ill in society. The maintenance of a harmonious and meaningful life is jeopardized when connections in these three areas or “spheres of relation” rupture, and enhanced when connections become stronger. To sum up (using Büber’s vocabulary), I-Thou relations in these spheres create healthy societies, and I-It relations create unhealthy societies. To re-phrase these ideas using common parlance, both religion and science suggest that the following three components are healthful for individuals and society: 1) environmental awareness; 2) community cohesion; 3) spiritual intimacy.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Religion, Well-Being

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

The Impact of Natural Environment and Social Connection on Human Health

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA