More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World
August 14, 2018
Mark Nepo's new book is an inclusive call to community, shared humanity, and a higher ethic—one that all people and all organizations can heed.
Mark Nepo's More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World might seem like an odd choice for a book giveaway from a company that focuses much of its editorial efforts on business books. So, let me explain it.
(I could explain that, as a company, we actually sell all kinds of books, really every kind of book, in addition to business books. Or, I could point out that the term "business book" itself is becoming more and more nebulous, a genre whose gravity seems to be pulling in a wider and wider array of topics, but that's not quite it.)
I recently reviewed Beth Macy's Dopesick. It is a brilliant book. And a heartbreaking book. It traces the roots of the opioid epidemic that has swept the country, cutting short 300,000 lives in the last fifteen years, on track to take 300,000 more in the next five, back to its birth in the flood of OxyContin that hit Appalachia in the late 1990s, just as globalization and the decline of coal were upending the region's economy. It is a difficult book, because we all want a happy ending, and a solution to our problems, and there is no easy fix to opioid addiction, in the throes of which addicts are always chasing their next fix just to keep from getting sick. The problem is systemic, and the solution must be, as well. I believe Macy has it right when she states that the ultimate fix is "a reinvigorated democracy that provides a pathway for meaningful work, with a living wage, for everybody." But how do we do that?
When told by a drug court judge that he was excited to read her book, "because maybe then we'll know what to do," she turned to the words of a lawyer and activist who was, along with her country doctor husband, on the front line of the opioid epidemic as it sprung up in western Virginia.
I told him what Sue Ella Kobak had said, more time than I could count: "The answer is always community."
More Together Than Alone is, decidedly, not a business book—but I think it's important to take time out for "Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World," especially in relation to the businesses we're in and the communities they serve. OxyContin was, after all, a business decision. Claiming it had an addiction rate of one percent (systematic reviews have since pegged the true addiction rate as high as 56 percent), and deliberately pushing it on struggling communities with high rates of disability and Medicaid coverage was a business decision. OxyContin is not inherently evil. The activists lobbying against it never wanted to ban it outright, but simply restrict its use to more severe cases, like cancer and end-of-life care, and to make the company that manufactured it reformulate it so it was less prone to abuse. To not do those things was a business decision. And it devastated communities. It has devastated families. That the family whose company developed OxyContin is now feuding over blame for the opioid crisis seems appropriate. But even as people should be held more accountable, blame is not a solution. "The answer is always community."
Our current CEO, Rebecca Schwartz, is the daughter of our previous owner, A. David Schwartz, who once said:
Bookselling was and is … a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the books on the community.
Dopesick is a devastating book, but also a brilliant and necessary one. I hope people will read it, that it will make a dent in the worldview and perspective of decision makers, at all levels, from the individual on the street to those is the halls of power. I think it can help. More Together Than Alone isn't a perfect book, but it is one whose view aims to encompass the entire globe, and I think it can help, too. In it, Mark Nepo asks us to:
Consider the concept of Sankofa, which is an Akan word from Ghana that means, We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward, so we can understand why and how we came to be who we are. We must also be careful not to mythologize or idealize the past, but to draw strength from what lives in the bones of the human family. In this spirit, the Jewish tradition offers the ethic Tikkun Olam, which is Hebrew for You are here to repair the world. This instruction is at the heart of the Talmud. Since we are the world, we are here to repair ourselves.
Is this true of your organization? Can this be something we keep in mind as we make business decisions? Can we make a conscious decision to make our organizations "act as an underpinning of a better world," rather than one that addicts and undermines our communities? Can we intentionally consider, in Nepo's words "the larger view of time and how we are all related, not only to those around us but those who came before us and those who will come after us"? Can we remember that "the world is the biggest raft of all," and that we're all hurtling through space in it together? None of us, or any organization, is perfect. None of us are entirely innocent, but Nepo reminds us of poet Philip Levine's words, that "the opposite of innocence is not guilt, but experience." With that experience should come a greater sense of accountability and responsibility. (And to be sure, some, like Purdue, the makers of OxyContin, are guilty, and should be found guilty or forced to admit guilt, which three Purdue executives eventually did in a plea deal in Virginia court—though many have argued that the penalties weren't sufficient, and didn't materially affect the company's owners or fortunes.)
More Together Than Alone is not a business book, but any person, in any business, can heed Mark Nepo's following call:
We have to do more than stop violence and prejudice. We have to commit to understanding their opposites in our hearts, and accept each other as part of a global family. Any true sense of community resides in staying committed to exploring and upholding what we are, as opposed to railing against what we are not.
We have 20 copies available.