Oh, Mary

There Is No Them

August 26, 2019
Patrick McGuire

Are we still grappling with a hierarchy of culture? 

Unity of purpose may seem like a contradiction, but uniqueness is what we all have in common.  Global society cannot be ranked.

As our world grows increasingly interdependent, and our two most pressing issues—environmental collapse and human rights—stare bleakly into our collective psyche, we need leaders with broad, humanistic and democratic perspective willing to fight.

But where do we find these leaders?  Chanting in a cave?  Working in an orphanage or academia, waiting for a SuperPAC?  No, leadership lies within each of us.

As long as we say, “Someone else will do it,” we’ve lost the battle for unity and justice.  As long as we blame even our greatest detractors and enemies for our problems, we miss the fundamental opportunity to exercise respect.  We forfeit the privilege of learning new survival strategies of shared struggle.

Pioneer anthropologist Franz Boas, a voice against the scientific racism of the early 1900s introduced the idea of cultural relativism, arguing that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct, but that all humans see the world through the lens of their own culture.  All humans. Not some humans more than others.

We yearn for the next Gandhi or King.  Maybe it’s Oprah!  A holy woman, outside of ourselves, who will lead us to the promised land. But so far, zip. 

Write this down: “I’ll be the one.”

Last week President Trump told reporters, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” He’s trying to finger Democrats as anti-Semites. Islamophobia has given him exactly the receptive audience he needs to get reelected. 

Trump also last week introduced new regulation to detain indefinitely migrant families who cross the border illegally, an astounding affront to our rule of law that will most certainly be challenged in court. 

He ended the week by filing an amicus brief that asks the Supreme Court to legalize anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.

Three predictably bigoted overtures, all in the same week.  Go toward it, my brothers and sisters.

Years ago, my friend Ann Cotton, the founder of the Campaign for Female Education, a leading NGO that is now an Action Mary client, taught me that our work is not solitary.  I’d always been schooled in the laws of corporate hierarchy.  Where workers depend on mentors for support.  Where people work for the boss.  Ann taught me to actively strive with.  Not for but with.  That’s the model of CAMFED.  Ann understands organizational change and equity at the most existential level.

There really is no divide. Disparage not ourselves when we meet people of exceptional capacity.  Nor behave with arrogance when we meet people with less. Wars start because we look across our world to a parallel place, point fingers and say, “it’s them.”  We do this so we can objectify, then annihilate. But there is no them. Only us.

I have been afraid my whole life.  Afraid I’m not worthy.  Sound familiar?  In a capitalist society we judge each other based on professional accomplishments, wealth, fame and degrees.  Maybe instead we should judge each other based on our spirit of devotion to a chosen path.  A Buddhist friend said to me recently, “Faith is to fear nothing.”  Isn’t that great?

This week we launch a brand new Action Mary website.  On our landing page, you’ll see the phrase “There is no them,” a rallying cry for how we ought to live.  Rise up fellow travelers.  Individuate.  Become self-aware.  Model self-reliance. Unify.