Some Things I Am Learning from Martin Luther King, Jr.
"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Posted Jan 25, 2013
In 1990 I celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time, and in the most significant way I remember. The entire day I was sitting with my partner at the time, and we were focusing on our dreams, our big dreams, our biggest dreams, way beyond just ourselves and our own lives.
Early on Monday morning this week, I received an email from a friend who forwarded a number of Dr. King’s quotes to me, some known to me and some not. I was thinking about them all day, and I decided to dedicate this week’s blog piece to sinking into the depth of meaning some of these quotes have had for me.
Nonviolence and the Future of Humanity
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
“The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
I sometimes wonder who is truly naïve – those who think that we cannot trust ourselves to collaborate, and therefore must rely on control, coercion, and incentives, or those who think we can, and that collaborating with nature and with each other are entirely possible. The former is bringing us to the brink of collapse. What would it take to galvanize us, all of us, enough of us, at least, to try something else? The logic of nonviolence is transformative for me, in that we take untenable situations – whether in our personal lives or on the biggest human scale – and change the logic that drives them, moving from separation into love, from protection into creating, from escalating mistrust into an interdependent quest for options. Nothing else that I can imagine would ever have any chance of working to stop the march into extinction.
When Our Needs Are Not Met
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Leading with Love
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”
Transforming an enemy into a friend is that key moment of changing the logic of events. By habit we respond to enemies – real or imagined – in rather predictable ways that almost guarantee perpetuation of personal conflict or large-scale war.
I also remember reading a study published some years ago about how the familiar diplomatic responses in times of international conflict tend to escalate, and how the alternative – honoring the other side, engaging in dialogue without preconditions, all the signs of what even the bare bones of “love” would mean on that level of engagement – has the effect of deescalating international conflict and allowing for peaceful solutions without resorting to war.
As with so much about nonviolence, all this is easier said than done. I can think of little that is more challenging than loving no matter what, loving those who hate, loving those who respond poorly to us. I have been working and practicing this to the best of my ability for many years, and I still so often find myself in moments when I even know that I want to access love and openness, and I don’t know where the key to my cells lies. Some of what showing love means I can choose despite the habitual resistance of my cellular makeup. Some of it is an energetic openness, and I still don’t know how to shift at that level at will. I will not stop trying, regardless of who the other party is.
Speaking the Truth
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Combining truth with love is perhaps the most exacting of the arts of nonviolence, and sorely misunderstood. Many believe they are practicing nonviolence when they do one without the other. Love without truth, especially in those moments that Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others have named over the history of humanity, amounts to condoning and accepting behaviors we know are harmful. That is what harms us when we remain silent. On the other hand, as someone who has never stopped telling the truth, I also know the reverse: truth without sufficient love can be an act of violence even without the use of arms. This is one of the core aspects of my own journey, finding the love, exhibiting the tenderness that will make my truth-telling a gift rather than fuel for the challenge to deepen.
The Courage of Leaning on Faith
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Please note: as announced last week, I want to let you know about the new way that you can connect with me and others who read this blog. Each Tuesday at 5:30pm Pacific time, starting February 5th, you will have an opportunity to participate in a teleconference to discuss the previous week’s post, usually posted by Thursday. Almost all weeks the teleconference will be facilitated by me, except when I am on a teaching tour, in which case a trusted colleague will be facilitating instead. Those who sign up will also have an additional set of reflection questions available to them in preparation for the conference call. For more information, click here.