If you search “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. Most of our troubles come from the fact that we love things, and use people.” you will find it on dozens of websites that feature inspirational or wisdom quotes. You will also encounter a common variant of this quotation is: “Variant: People were created to be loved Things were created to be used. The world is in chaos because things are being loved and people are being used.” It’s a great observation, isn’t it? But who said it? Well, that depends on what website you visit. Most attribute it to the Dalai Lama, others attribute Martin Luther King, John Green (from his novel Looking for Alaska). Problem is, they never said or wrote this.
The earliest use of this quotation appears in the book, Our Christian Vocation (1955) written by John Heuss (1908-1966), an Episcopal priest who promoted Christian education. On page 196, Heuss writes: “Martin Buber said, in effect, ‘People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. Most of our troubles come from the fact that we love things, and use people.’ This is being blind to the first fact of a satisfying life.”
Based on the wording “in effect” in seems that Heuss is paraphrasing something that Buber has said or wrote. It certainly make sense, since Buber — who was a philosopher, author, religious scholar, and political activist — developed the philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism that distinguishes between two modes of existence: I-Thou and I-It. In his influential work, I and Thou (1923), Buber explains that man is defined by his relations between other human beings and things. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides this introduction to this nuanced concept:
The “I-Thou” relation is the pure encounter of one whole unique entity with another in such a way that the other is known without being subsumed under a universal. Not yet subject to classification or limitation, the “Thou” is not reducible to spatial or temporal characteristics. In contrast to this the “I-It” relation is driven by categories of “same” and “different” and focuses on universal definition. An “I-It” relation experiences a detached thing, fixed in space and time, while an “I-Thou” relation participates in the dynamic, living process of an “other.” Buber characterizes “I-Thou” relations as “dialogical” and “I-It” relations as “monological.”
Buber was a prolific writer, nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature (10 times) and the Nobel Peace Prize (7 times). So although the specific quotation attributed to him by Heuss does not appear in his writings, it is very consistent with his philosophy.
Note: If there is a Buber scholar who can identify a similar passage to this quotation, please let me know.
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For further reading: Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting
For further reading: I and Thou by Martin Buber