Monday morning, January 15th, many of us are free to stay home from work. We have this opportunity because of the life works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I hope we can find it in our hearts to take at least a few minutes to honor him. There’s a reason his is one of so few federal holidays. Though the day honors his birthday, but is mostly focused on the work of his lifetime, which is human and civil rights. In the spirit of Gandhi, his efforts at non-violent protest against the violent actions of individuals and his own government became a clarion call for people of good will. That his life was ended by an act of violence was almost expected in the world of prejudice and hate he sought to change. One of the main tenants of his teaching was:
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
We are currently in a new and dangerous time when too many people are so traumatized by what is happening in the world that they remain silent out of fear, or the inability to comprehend what’s going on. This is an appropriate day to leave that fear in the dust and to remember those words. Silence in our current time is a betrayal of our values, our beliefs, our consciences and our heritage. There is a very important question here. Are we colluding with the destruction of our democracy by the choice of silence? Dangerous times call for brave individuals. In 1963 Dr. King was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for non-violent protesting. And yet he never changed his message.
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor popular,
but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.
Twenty one years earlier, Gandhi was arrested by the British for advocating independence for India. His non-violence was a model for Dr. King. Gandhi had a list of what he called “The Seven Dangers to Human Virtue.” Our time is a good one to bring these dangers back into the spotlight. They are:
- Wealth without work.
- Pleasure without conscience.
- Knowledge without character.
- Business without ethics.
- Science without humanity.
- Religion without sacrifice.
- Politics without principles.
I don’t know about you, but all of those ring a bell of warning when I consider the mega-corporations—from tech to banking to Wall Street—and the current crop of so-called leaders running our country. What better way to honor Dr. King and his practice of non-violence then to break our silence about the state of our union and the state of the world? We can give voice to the voiceless and bring a robust sense of right-doing by speaking truth to power and exposing wrong-doing where we see and hear it.
I am being reminded of the dangerous results of being taught that we should not speak about religion or politics or sex in proper culture. What we should have been taught was not silence but civil discourse. Within families, communities, churches and clubs, huge numbers of people band together by thought—if you think like me, I’m comfortable talking to you. Though many are trying to change this, it’s a difficult habit to break. Yet finding common ground with those who are different is what Dr. King demonstrated and taught. The recent proliferation of #metoo in social media is an example of people supporting others in their call for justice.
Racial slurs and judgments coming from the highest office are now becoming commonplace. The shock level lessens as we get used to obscenities and uneducated statements. We can’t let this happen. We must be vigilant and we must speak. After the president went on his latest tirade against Haiti and Africa, Bill Kristol wrote about a soldier’s bravery.
Two weeks ago a 28 year old soldier ran into a burning building, saving four people before he died in the flames. His name was Pvt. Emmanuel Mansah, an immigrant from Ghana, a country Donald Trump apparently thinks produces very subpar immigrants.
Kristol used the example of an individual to negate a blanket statement about a group. He spoke up against bigotry without being out-of-control or using the language of the man he spoke against. This is a single example of one person in one situation, but we can all do this daily whenever we see unfair behavior or language. It is neither a matter of being passive nor is it being unloving. It is choosing to speak out to educate so one person, or a group, cannot proliferate their venom and disinformation without consequences. I hope that each of us can make a decision to do at least one positive thing in honor of Martin Luther King and others like him. We can shine our light and show them their hearts’ desires and sacrifices for peace and acceptance were not in vain. In the words of Dr. King:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.