A Short Reflection on MLK

Some days I don’t leave my house because I speculate other people will annoy me.

I get into moods where I’m frustrated at others’ lack of depth, immaturity, selfishness, or condescension. Today was one of those days.

I recently finished a collection of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps the hardest to read was his eulogy at the funeral for three of the children killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

I found his words remarkable, especially when he started talking about Southern whites:

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

I’ve spent four years learning how to be critical, learning how to recognize bad arguments, bad behavior, and bad living. I’ve spent four years placing people into convenient categories. I’ve spent four years defining myself as “not other people.”

King called that community to love, though. He told them not to lose faith in the enemy.

I don’t have an enemy. I create enemies for the drama.  So how much easier should it be for me to have faith in the people who annoy me?

Picture found here.

On Heroes

2/21/2018 Update: I have been reading The Individual, Society, and Education: A History of American Educational Ideas by Clarence J. Karier and in the 11th chapter of that book, he wrote about how MLK was targeted to discredit him by the FBI during his career and part of that targeting involved “female plants” to tempt him in order for him to make mistakes precisely so that blog posts like this would be written. I thought that was a necessary addendum to add to this post. Excuse me for my naivete in 2012.

 

The world needs heroes, but the world doesn’t want them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had affairs.

Does that mean that everything else he did was worthless?

We demand perfection from our heroes. We want divinity. We want our politicians to appeal to every interest group, our preachers to never sin, our journalists to never plagiarize, our celebrities to be role models, and our intellectuals to always be right.

But we allow politicians to win elections with less than 50% of the vote. We talk of doctrine where everyone, the greatest of the great and the least of the least, sins. We put our writers in high-stress jobs where they are expected to know everything about everything. We make celebrities of sixteen-year-old kids. And we put our intellectuals in a culture of democracy, in which anyone has the right to criticize.

The world needs heroes, but the world doesn’t want them.

I cannot promise perfection. I cannot promise a life lived without mistakes.

All that I can promise is that the mistakes I make will either be a result of great intentions or personal weakness.

I think we should reverse it.

We should want heroes but not need them. We should be thrilled when ordinary, awful people do extraordinary, amazing things. We should understand MLK, Jr. not as a great man who fell but as a fallen man who was great.