With the combination of fear, violence and mean-spirited rhetoric arising from the tragedy in Arizona, it is ironic, if perfect timing, that today would be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
By Russell Bishop
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Dr. King inspired many in this country to imagine a world where freedom, brotherhood and equality were the commonplace texture of relationships, discourse and societal interactions. He encouraged us not only to dream but to act on those dreams. His inspiration and actions serve as a reminder that no matter the situation or the odds, there are still steps you can take to make a difference, to find a way to overcome what’s in the way, to work around the numerous obstacles.
We all know his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., that summer’s day, Aug. 28, 1963. Excerpted from that stirring moment are these powerful words, equally as relevant today as they were in 1963:
I have a dream today. … With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
Clearly, we still have jangling discords that are tearing away at our social fabric. Racism has not gone away, and people continue to bring violence toward one another. What many of us may not know, however, is Dr. King’s deeply held conviction that we are all connected, that what one of us suffers impinges on the well-being of another. As he said in his Commencement address to Oberlin College in June 1965:
All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
Martin Luther King not only taught us that dreams require commitment in order to come true, but that if freedom is the outcome, love is the way. He did not preach of a love found in the safety of our homes but of a love demonstrated in active engagement with the world. His was not a love that you could earn but a love born of the realization that without love, there would be no life. In a sermon entitled “Strength to Love,” delivered in 1963, he said:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
(As perfect timing would have it, Marci Shimoff has a new bestselling book out, “Love for No Reason.” While the book delves into the personal and transformational side of love, it strikes me as something we could well marry with the inspiration of Martin Luther King and perhaps rise to another level of interconnection between people.)