Ursula K. Le Guin

Us, Them, They, and Other when We are All an I

I wanted to write this post yesterday, but events and emotions kept me from the page. I woke to this image outside my bedroom window. Inspired and uplifted, I felt ready to write. 

But then the day happened. And as torrential storms threatened from the west, an internal storm overwhelmed from within. Part of it was that one of US was missing. And part of it was that one of THEM had done something that upset me very much.

There’s been a lot of that going around lately. Us, them, they, the other garnering blame for whatever happens to be going wrong. I guess it’s part of human nature as it seems to have gone on since the beginning of time based on what we know from anthropology, history, and sacred stories. It doesn’t make it right, though it may be easy.

I attended a conference recently full of inspired and inspiring writers from across the country and globe. There was much talk of politics, and diversity, and freedom of speech. All of the sessions except one left me full of hope. But one left me feeling a little sick because of what I heard two writers say.

“I don’t want THOSE people to read my books. I’m not writing for THEM.”

“White women abandoned us.”

Back home, at the grocery store, the lines were long and open registers few. I was disgruntled, but resigned to waiting. As I looked around, other women were standing with loaded carts, some trying to corral antsy children. If our eyes met, we exchanged brief, knowing smiles. WE did not fuss. But a man, a white man, in front of me, standing with his wife, began to throw a fit, increasingly loud and embarrassing. Of course, it did not open lines. It only made those of us standing in them feel uncomfortable.

My immediate reaction, other than feeling immensely sorry for his wife, was to think MEN! They have never had to wait for anything. Entitled. Complaining toddlers in long pants.

And then I remembered  what I had heard at the conference and how upsetting it had been.

THIS man had trouble waiting. Not all men. Not all white men. This man.

Just as not all white women abandoned women of color in the last election.

Just as the THEM included in the people who the author said she didn’t want to read her books most likely look very much like the people where I live.

If you happen to follow conversations in the world of Children’s Literature, you, no doubt, have heard the idea of books serving as mirrors and as windows. Mirrors to learn more about people like you, and windows through which to look out and learn about people who may seem quite different from you. The idea being that all readers need to learn more about their identity, but also to broaden perspectives by learning about those outside of personal experience. In our current political climate, this seems increasingly important.

I’m trying very hard, as an individual, to catch myself when I automatically lump people into a category, because I don’t want others to put me in a particular basket just because of where I live, the color of my skin, or my beliefs. Each of us is an I. We may have things in common. We most certainly have differences. We each have preferred tribes. But judge me as an individual. I will do the same for you.

In her essay collection, Words Are My Matter, Ursula K. Le Guin says, ” No matter how humble the spirit it’s offered in, a sermon is an act of aggression.”

I’m increasingly tired of aggression. And I don’t mean to preach. But, we have to learn to listen to each other, to truly see each other, to follow the Golden Rule, and to live a religion of kindness. It’s not about THEM. It’s not about US.

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

How clean are the windows though which you see the world?

It may just be that all of us could afford to scrub a little harder to make things shine.




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