On Jan. 21, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a towering figure of the last century. Throughout our history, figures have emerged to step into a void created by the social climate of the time, and Dr. King was one of those people.
It’s difficult now to imagine the time during which he was at the peak of his campaign to secure equality for all, so many years after it was granted by law. His nonviolent approach to protesting set an example for all of us and his soaring voice and elegant use of language mesmerized us and made us listen. Never a harsh word, or personal condemnation of those who were viewed as the source of the problem, just a reasoned and rational argument for the cause he espoused.
He was truly a model of faith and rationality and that was the source of his power to move people’s spirits and hearts.
I think sometimes about how much we owe him for the lessons that he taught, lessons of persistence and devotion to the righteous cause that he believed in. Some of us are so quick to anger and nastiness these days over the state of our country and the world that we lose sight of the power of moderation in our efforts to create the better place that we all seek. The powerful use of intellect and reason as a force for change and improvement, in the end, can prevail.
Sometimes we tend to think of all that he did as part of an historical evolution from what existed to what he helped to create, but it’s really more profound than that. It’s really about the need to learn lessons that should continue to help us solve our social problems even now. The philosopher said that if we don’t learn history’s lessons, we’re doomed to repeat them, so what did we learn?
What then, can we do now, that will draw from his legacy? I wonder, can we be more willing to listen, or speak less emotionally about our concerns? Is it possible for us to be less angry and more willing to solve problems collaboratively? Can we bring ourselves to pay attention to all the arguments that define an issue?
How much more willing are we to stop and think before acting on an impulse? I think about this generation coming up and how much trouble and strife their world holds for them; unthinkable social and physical horrors that have defined their lives. What would it take to moderate some of the irrational responses to problems that seem to grow with each passing day? How can we benefit from Dr. King’s lessons, now, after all these years?
For me, the worth of an historical figure increases if we can continue to benefit and learn from the legacy they left behind. The many persons throughout history who have improved our lives are all worth honoring, but I believe that those who have left us with important examples of life altering lessons deserve a special place in that pantheon of heroes.
I wish we could spend more time in church and school, in our social organizations and our family groups talking about how our lives can change through the examples of others. Those whom we consider saints are generally people whose lives offer us examples to emulate with respect to their sanctity and devotion to God and living good lives.
I believe that others who are not saints can also offer us life lessons that we can choose to follow and observe. Some of them are just people we know to be good practitioners of life as it should be lived; filled with compassion and devotion to developing our better selves.
So why not make examples of those among us who have made a real effort to forge a path along the rocky roads that we all travel? Why shouldn’t we be able to remember some truths culled from lives well lived? I think we can, after all, isn’t that what religion strives to offer us? Dr. King and others opened some doors of opportunity for us, it’s our choice to take advantage or ignore the options. So much of what happens seems to be the result of choices that we make, choices that can be made with more reasoned responses to situations, or not. So why not try to be more thoughtful before responding?
Dr. King’s legacy will be remembered at an event on Jan. 21, here in Branford at the high school. A community breakfast at 8:30 with some inspiring words from Beth Chandler, one of our own success stories, and an opportunity for us as a community to think about our choices.