Have you noticed how the world is full of ‘them’? It seems that everywhere you look ‘they’ are there, whether it’s on the TV or in the newspapers, at the clinic or in the hospital, at school or college, at work or in the club, you can’t get away from ‘them’. Even in church, amongst the neighbours, at home sometimes, ‘they’ appear.
(Now, before you read on, perhaps you might take a moment to be aware of yourself, to ask who has come to mind as ‘them’, who ‘they’ are, and what you are thinking and feeling. What tone did you hear as you read that first paragraph? Were we talking ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age……?
I wonder what criteria of difference came to mind. We all carry the potential for prejudice and discrimination within us.)
The ‘them’ I have in mind, found in all those places above, are the people we see as responsible, often to blame, when things are not as we think they should be.
“They haven’t done it.” “Is it any surprise when it’s left to them?” “They’re only in it for what they can get out of it.”
Depending on the context ‘they’ can be national politicians, local government, managers, celebrities, receptionists, teachers, doctors, social services, ministers, church or circuit stewards, even sometimes family members. And the way in which we use the words ‘they and ‘them’ is to apportion blame, to place responsibility, and, often, to avoid thinking about our own responsibilities and action (or inaction).
I’m not sure that to use the word ‘they’ in this way is very Christian. I know that, in every walk of life and profession, there will be some who do a worse job than others, who make wrong choices, whose decisions will have unhelpful or downright dangerous consequences for others, sometimes ourselves.
The use of ‘they’, however, does two things. Firstly, it ignores the complexities of so many situations, trying to simplify things down to it being ‘their’ fault. Often ‘they’ are balancing multiple demands with limited resources, and although the outcomes may not be what we want, they are trying their best. Scapegoating ‘them’ masks underlying issues. Secondly, the use of ‘they’ can be a way of avoiding ‘our’ responsibilities. If we’re waiting for ‘them’ to sort it out or change, then ‘we’ don’t need to do anything.
If ‘they’ is not a Christian word, ‘we’ most definitely is. “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Love your neighbour as yourself.” “I am the vine, you are the branches…” Commandments and images which show us who we are and how we are to be – people called to live and love as scripture shows us, in community. We are called to live generously, to work for justice, to welcome the stranger, to give our neighbours a glimpse of God’s goodness, to be thankful in all circumstances.
The next time you’re tempted to blame ‘them’, take a moment. Reflect on ‘their’ situation; maybe say a prayer for ‘them’. And ask yourself how you can respond in such a way that God’s goodness, which will be present, can have its way.