Celebrating the Life of Dr. King
Dear William James Community:
There are a few people who come to prominence at just the right time. Their words, their actions and their relationships interact with the existing social conditions to create exponential change. In some uncanny fashion, their personal passions and their individual desires become closely aligned with the passions and desires of the larger group. They may be individuals with significant character limitations, but they move with attunement to the moment, because the goal is never as clear as the drive to approach it. They articulate thoughts, they validate emotions, they discern direction, they develop norms and they catalyze change. The philosopher G.W.F. Hegel called these people World Historical Individuals. Today we celebrate one of these individuals, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Time has a way of positioning influential people and their work into museum-like memories. Many of the world’s leaders and their accomplishments become iconic to those who never encountered them, but Dr. King was a real person and a significant force. Only a few of you who are reading this note can remember the dramatic marches, the letters from prison, the powerful speeches that drew eloquently from scripture and historical events to challenge the prevailing social norms and to endow a movement fraught with danger with compelling moral righteousness. The world changed through the leadership of Dr. King and those courageous men and women who worked with him and marched together. With ample historical and current events promoting violence as a tactic, Dr. King advocated ‘civil’ disobedience and non-violent demonstration. Like many such, peaceful, world historical individuals, his life was cut short by an assassin’s rifle, as he anticipated that it might be.
Quite unfortunately, this is not a day just to reflect about the contributions of a great person nor to celebrate the many changes that his life brought forward. We don’t have that indulgence. Deep feelings of racial hatred remain in this country. These attitudes are manifested subtly and obviously and they play a significant role in our country’s social policy, economics and laws… still. They frighten our children, insult our friends and neighbors and they enslave our DACA Americans. The dream of Dr. King remains unrealized and there has never been a greater need for civility to be present in our relationships with each other and in our civil dialogue.
This is day to commit to self-examination to identify the places where our psyche might be more closed off and frightened than it should be. It is a day to identify places where we can be more reassuring and welcoming of others than we have. Not just with regards to race, but in our regard of all whom we encounter. It is a day to commit to engaging others civilly and it is an opportunity to ask how we can work for change so that the dream Dr. King and so many others lived and gave their lives for can be realized. It is with these actions and commitments that we best honor the work of this unusual person.