Everybody knows that Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that one day, the children of slaves and the children of slave-owners would be able to live in a world of brotherhood and equal opportunity. Recently I’ve set out to read more of his writings, and along the way I’ve picked up nuggets of wisdom I find very applicable to our time and place. Martin Luther King Day is a perfect opportunity to pass on some more of his great words to my children.
“When the history books are written, someone will say there lived black people who had the courage to stand up for their rights.”
Martin Luther King Jr. did not give dignity to his oppressed race (he believed that was bestowed upon them by our Creator), but he did help them see their dignity was worth a fight. He not only helped them find their voices, but encouraged them to make their voices heard in a world that didn’t want to listen to the cries of the oppressed. I, too, want my children to be aware of their own, God-given dignity. I want them to understand that, no matter what, their no means no. I want them to truly believe that they never need to back down from what they know to be true, even when standing on their principles makes life uncomfortable for them. This world needs more people full of strength and conviction, even when it leads to conflict and opposition. Some things in life are worth fighting for, and I pray my children will be strong and confident enough to know this and stand strong, even when it isn’t easy.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, helping garbage collectors on strike. He was not only concerned about his personal rights, but he was also concerned about the rights of all people who were disadvantaged and overlooked. This is so important. Perhaps one of my strongest desires for my children is that they will grow to be people who care about the plight of others, whether it directly affects their own lives or not. Sometimes we have to redistribute our power to those who have less of it. Sometimes we have to be the voice for those who don’t have one. It can be unpopular, and it can make other people angry, just like Martin Luther King Jr. offended many in his day. But there is so much hurting in this world, and so much abuse of power. I want my children to have eyes to see the dignity and worth of every human being, and to be agents of change so that other people will see their value too.
“Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
Twitter wars are easy. Publicly shaming others on social media is a piece of cake. And here’s hoping it stays at that, though we all know violence and mass shootings have become a much-too-regular occurrence. The bottom line? Loving people is hard, especially in such a tense and polarized time as now. Unfortunately, the way we deal with this conflict is often not the path of love. Martin Luther King believed in a better way. He believed love drives out hate. What if we were people who aimed to build bridges by loving and listening, instead of burning bridges with our quick, overly-simplified answers and biting social media responses? What if our priority was to better understand other perspectives instead of making our only goal to be understood? I want my children to grow up in a more loving world, but, as is commonly said, the only way to change the world is to be the change you want to see. I hope my children are people who are quick to listen, slow to become angry, and eager to show compassion and empathy to all people, even those on the other side of the fence.
I really do believe what Martin Luther King Jr. believed: love can drive out hate. Love can change the world.