Even though we live in a different day and time than did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many believe we need to stop referring “back” to the civil rights movement I think it is worthwhile to examine the manner in which he led to see if there is any relevance for the current struggle for racial healing and justice. Yes there are more nuances and subtleties to deal with than at that time and generations have passed, but it may be a mistake to relegate Dr. King to simply an important historical figure.
Every year we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther Jr. and commemorate the day he was assassinated. We honor what he achieved in the area of human rights but often gloss over the substantive elements of the “how” of what he accomplished. We openly acknowledge his effective leadership and that he lifted all boats but rarely discuss the principles that guided him or how they have relevance for our time. So what were those principles? Most of us realize they were related to non-violence but how many of us can remember them specifically? I could only bring to mind one or two. So I decided to do some research and refresh my memory. In case you have forgotten as well, let me share what I found.
Non-violence is seen as being aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Its goal is to persuade the opponent of the righteousness of the cause. A clear purpose of non-violence is redemption and reconciliation with a focus on creating the beloved community. Non-violence acknowledges that those who are the oppressors are victims as well. Unmerited suffering is seen as redemptive with the belief it can change hearts when reason fails. Non-violence includes non-violence toward the spirit as well. It is motivated by spontaneous and unselfish love. Love is to be given willingly, knowing that it may be met by indifference or hostility. It serves as the basis for unending forgiveness. Loving the victimizer is seen as how love is demonstrated for one’s self. Finally, non-violence is predicated on the belief that the universe supports and is on the side of justice and that justice will prevail.
I believe these principles have just as much social relevance as when Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi practiced them. I wonder how they would be received as the foundation for strategic action in 2013. Given the divisive climate we live in I believe they merit our earnest consideration.