In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. -Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is the day that we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest, and most eloquent, leaders of the civil rights movement.  You might have off today, particularly if you work for the government or are attending school.  If that’s the case, or even if you are one of the many people who still have work and other duties to take care of today, I hope you’ll take a little bit of time from the rest of your duties today and consider the wisdom of Dr. King’s words.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. – Martin Luther King Jr.

At a time when the United States seems to hopelessly divided and marked by endless fighting between rival political and social groups, it’s illustrative to look back at our history and see the periods when we were even more divided.  Dr. King spoke at time when race riots, police crack downs, and sometimes violent demonstrations and counter demonstrations seemed ready to tear this country apart.  Instead, while there was certainly much violence and strife during this period, the country as a whole emerged stronger and fairer than ever before.  (Even though many of those who helped to lead us to this better place ended up losing their lives in the struggle, including Dr. King.)

I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. – Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s hard to think about the life of Dr. King without thinking of the recent tragic events in Tucson, both for the tragic ways in which both the Tucson incident and Dr. King’s life ended, and for the highly charged political atmosphere which seems to surround both events.  As Dr King’s life, and death, seem to bring out strong reactions from both his supporters and his detractors, so too do the shootings in Tucson appear to have inspired virulent debate on everything from the connection of speech and actions to the appropriate steps to prevent future occurrences like this.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love. – Martin Luther King Jr.

I will be the first to admit, I am simply overwhelmed by the tragedy at Tucson, and have no idea of how to respond properly.  One reason I haven’t written anything about these events up to this point is that I was at a loss as to what to say, and in particular, what to say that would not simply add more flames to the fires already smoldering as commentators line up to pour on the fuel.  It is at time like this when I wonder how Dr. King (among other great thinkers and philosophers from the past) would react to these events if he were able.  What words of wisdom might he share to help us get through our own troubled times?  I can’t say for certain (I am, by no stretch of the imagination, Dr. King), but to judge from some of his past statements, he would remind of the importance of not meeting hate and evil with more evil:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He would tell remind us of the resilience and power of good to overcome evil, however much it might seem that evil has won:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. – Martin Luther King Jr.

And he would remind us that hate, even directed at those who do us great evil, hurts us far more than it hurts those we hate:

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. – Martin Luther King Jr.

I know that we as a country are hurting right now, that our worldview has suffered a great blow, and that we are reeling from this most recently tragedy.  But the worst thing we can do is give in to our grief and our hatred, lashing out at our fellow countrymen, and letting the horrible events from earlier this month serve as a wedge between us.  Instead, let us use this as moment, like the assassination of Dr. King, where we reflect on the tragedy of what has happened, and try our best to use this event as the impetus to come together and improve our country.  I am convinced that this is what Dr. King would have wanted.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. – Martin Luther King Jr.

May you rest in peace, Dr. King

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