Someone asked an Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, “How should we treat others?” The answer he gave was, “There are no others.”
While I came across this ancient Indian parable long after Night and I co-founded the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation in 2001, I realized it describes a philosophy that is at the center of why we do what we do.
As we travel the world and meet people from different cultures, different belief systems, and different life circumstances, we have become more and more impressed not by our differences, but by what is common among us all; Our shared humanity. It is a filling experience to be able to sit across from a woman in a slum community and discover she wants the same basic things we all hope for in life: safety for her family, food for her children, a sense of connection, and a chance to thrive.
Another philosophy which expresses our motivation comes from a powerful term that originated in South Africa: Ubuntu. There are several interpretations of this concept, but it is most widely interpreted as “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Ubuntu is a recognition that our humanity is bound up in each other; who I am is because of who you are. When one person is diminished, I too am diminished, as we as a whole are diminished. There are no others.
Night and I started the foundation because we recognize the child with a dirty face and empty belly who sleeps on a dirt floor and is vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of unspeakable abuse could have been our child if borne into different circumstances. That child is not an other. The only difference between us and someone who grew up in abject poverty, is that they grew up in abject poverty, without resources or options. Every person deserves to have their basic human needs met; food, shelter, safety, nurture, access to education, freedom, and opportunity. We see these as rights. If one person is unable thrive, humanity loses.
Creating a foundation was about social justice not charity. We feel that charity implies a hierarchy and an approach to giving that is driven by a sense of pity. Pity fails to acknowledge the strength of the person in front of you or their power to change their own lives. We believe that, if given a fair chance, anyone can manifest a better future for themselves, their family, and their community.
We do not seek to provide charity, but rather to empower individuals and communities to meet their potential and realize their dreams. Our foundation is about removing the barriers created by inequity and oppression so people can thrive.
Why do we ultimately do what we do? Night and I believe in action. If we see inequity and fail to act, our inaction becomes a silent approval of the injustices we see. We created the foundation because we see it is our responsibility to help raise conditions for humanity. Everyone matters. There are no others.
Dr. Bhavna Shyamalan
Co-Founder and Vice President