January 15, 2019 | Patrick McGuire

Almost everyone experiences serious illness. With any providence we recover with new perspective on how we should live.

To me, people who stare death in the face possess inexplicable energy to create. In fact, it has often been my experience that the people who have suffered the most wield the greatest power in our world.

My brother is fighting brain cancer. He is also a warrior. As he fights, he wins. With ever-increasing resolve, he changes the world and the people around him.

This is a man who built a successful company, cared for an extended family, raced motorcycles, and loved many. Including most profoundly, his indomitable wife. Loved ones and extended communities bear witness and undergo transformation because of my brother’s will to fight. His example powers a happier and better outcome for all of us, far into the future. It is a lesson the world desperately needs right now. It is a lesson I learned many years ago when I faced a serious illness.

Long ago, I came out when I was barely old enough to vote. I entered UC Berkeley, jubilantly taking a room in a gay vegetarian collective. In the years that followed, I was propelled forward by gay activist classmates living without shame, celebrating new freedom in the aftermath of Stonewall.

In 1980, our world changed forever. A gay cancer swept through San Francisco with astounding ferocity.  Tens of thousands died in the first wave, and hundreds of thousands across the country died over the next two decades, ravaging communities in every major city.  By 1990, I’d lost a partner and a brother to AIDS, both in the same year. If not for the breakthrough medicines of the early nineties, I surely would have perished.

In those days, we didn’t say LGBTQ. We said gay. Looking back, I remember quite profoundly the lesbian community stepping forward to fight. We, the men, were sick. But on they fought, for all of us. And so, the wall that divided the men’s and women’s communities began to dissolve.

Today, I am a vestige of a lost generation, a survivor of a plague that continues its long burn through the human race. Among my university brothers, a circle of friends that helped shape my life, a group of comrades who hoped for a better world, I am the only one who lived to see their hopes realized when marriage equality became the law of the land.

When people ask me why we started Action Mary, “a PR firm with a human mission” our ethos was based on the belief that people are all the same. That our differences are in fact what we have in common, and that when we struggle, it is a shared struggle, for ourselves and others. No one realizes their fullest dreams until we all can.

The human mission of a brand today, and alongside it, the sales promotion mandate of the business enterprise, are no longer separate.  Which is why we’ve taken on non-profits as a pillar of client strategy.  And why we urge for-profit clients to lead with purpose—a human mission—as a necessary brand driver.

It is Action Mary’s fundamental belief that both sectors—for-profit and non-profit—have much to teach each other.  We’re living in a time when human mission and sales growth, benevolence and the bottom line, must converge. Increasingly under the microscope of NGOs, activist consumers and capital-minded boards of directors, all brands are held to levels of accountability at one time thought inconceivable.  And yet government institutions atrophied by politics and money quit claim to business, newly replete with lower tax burdens and record profits. It is we who must rise to the challenge of a better society and our very survival. They abdicated their responsibility to the world. We cannot.

When I suggested recently to a Buddhist friend who is a high-level technology executive, that Iron Man might be the appropriate new image of human activism he countered, “but Iron Man is a rapacious capitalist!”

Exactly. Iron Man’s goodwill emanates from his radioactive and artificial human heart.

I think often of my lost Berkeley brothers whenever I feel discouraged. For I know they gallop next to me, along with everyone here at Action Mary. There exist countless other stories of human hardship far greater than mine, in every segment of society. For my own part, as a witness to death, I have drawn a new purpose in life.

I survived to travel hard and fast for a different world.

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