Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Paris!: No Man or Woman Is an Island

We are all involved in mankind.

A social psychologist, I look at everything with a focus on our human-interdependence. Originator of the theory of interdependence John Thibaut (who trained me), said it this way: People are interdependent and it is our interdependence that is the proper study of social psychology.

Not just social psychologists see it that way. Preacher-poet John Donne (1572-1631) tried to help us all understand the centrality of interdependence to our lives by saying and writing:

No man is an island, Entire unto itself, Everyman is a piece of the continent,A part of the main.If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manner of thy friends were. Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.

To emphasize that we are all involved in mankind, every semester I recite that passage to my social psychology classes. So students at North Carolina State University who have taken one or more of my classes know of my intense focus on our human-interdependence. Even students who have only heard of me know that.

After the attacks on Paris, through Facebook, from an N.C. State alumnus, I received this message and question:

"Dr. Nacoste, I have read/heard black students and professionals say that ‘I can't stand with France because there are issues impacting black students in America that people aren't talking about.’ Can you help me unpack this because I feel that lending support in a time of need doesn't mean I am standing down or not talking about from another issue of passion?

Oh my… One of the really unfortunate parts of the intergroup dynamic in America is the failure to see connections. Too many are seeing the world through a minimal-group, “…us versus them” lens.

What was done in France is about bigotry against a people. What is happening at the University of Missouri, for example is also about bigotry. To say that you cannot stand with others who are facing bigotry is to be a bigot. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best by saying:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Any time we do not speak out against injustice, we support an environment of injustice. In today’s world where, formerly, legally, oppressed groups now have unprecedented opportunities to voice their indignation and objection to injustices aimed at their communities, it can be very tempting to think that other injustices are less important. But the truth is that since these are human problems, ignoring other peoples pain, denying our human-interdependence, perpetuates environments of injustice. When we tell children that only “our” pain matters, we are telling them that other people are less than us; are less than human. That is a moral judgment that anyone should be ashamed to make.

It was on this moral ground that Dr. King was standing and speaking when, over and over, he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

All that weekend I felt pain for the people of Paris, and the whole people of France. I felt and still feel indignation at this immoral, vicious attack on our humanity. In echoing Dr. King, President Obama was right to say,

"Once again we've seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share."

In the wake of what happened in Paris I, a black man who grew up in the Jim Crow legally-segregated South, I stand in indignation, sympathy and empathy with the people of France. In words often quoted by Maya Angelou, “I am human; nothing human can be alien to me.”

No woman or man is an island. We are all involved in mankind. Those who cannot stand with other human beings in times of injustice are the reason these intergroup dynamics continue in our world in so many different forms, aimed at so many different groups.


Dr. Rupert W. Nacoste is Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University, and the author of “Taking on Diversity: How We Can Move From Anxiety To Respect.”