“If you go back in time you’ll find tribes that were essentially only concerned with their own tribal members. If you were a member of another tribe, you could be killed with impunity.” – Peter Singer
“One of the greatest tragedies of man’s long trek along the highway of history has been the limiting of neighborly concern to tribe, race, class, or nation. The God of early Old Testament days was a tribal god and the ethic was tribal. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ meant ‘Thou shalt not kill a fellow Israelite, but for God’s sake, kill a Philistine.’ Greek democracy embraced a certain aristocracy, but not the hordes of Greek slaves…” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The rejuvenated promise in a new year is exciting. But by the third week of January, some people have already let their resolutions go. So comes the second holiday of the year – sobering for some, inspiring for others – to hopefully pull us as a nation into a level of consciousness about race, politics, and human relations.
Today, I give thanks for the life and works of Martin Luther King Jr. and all those who supported him in his plight to bring change through non-violence. Today was a day of reading children’s books on civil rights and MLK biographies. Today, my kids drew pictures of Martin and Coretta. I don’t believe that kids are ever too young to hear how civil disobedience can change the world. My kids took fighting authority quite literally and bucked against any request I made of them, but if that means that they’re working through the concept then so be it.
Somehow I missed out on MLK’s anti-war and anti-poverty messages while focusing on his work on civil rights. He was a humanist, and spoke out against the violence and oppression wrought by American hands. He lost supporters that felt that he shouldn’t dilute the work that he had to civil rights. He lost more supporters that felt that he shouldn’t speak out against his own government. Martin saw injustice in his world (near and far), and wasn’t held back from nationalist or classist divides.
I appreciate having one long day of pondering this, but I wonder how I can bring it into my own life. Being of service to others is a start. Building neighborly connections is important to me too; I live in a cohousing community so I have many opportunities to interact with my neighbors in the day. For me, the biggest struggle is to ensure that I am using honest communication and effective conflict resolution techniques. I am passive when it comes to confronting others on issues that I am passionate about; I would like to carry my fired-up thoughts that I express in my private sphere to the parties involved. It is gritty and uncomfortable, but I feel this resolution builds community based on trust and effort. Just being conscious of this makes me more likely to make a change on the daily level. I also believe I can act on the global injustices that compel me. We are one – it’s as simple and as complicated as that.
Who are your heroes? What lessons do you take from their example into your daily life?
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Massey Lectures”
- Transcript of MLK’s speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence”
Altered photo from Flickr Creative Commons, “Martin Luther King Jr. 1964 (source LIbrary of Congress)” by Mike Licht