Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I haven't thought much about it before. To many, it's just a holiday (if you even get the day off). And that's really unfortunate. I know why I haven't thought about it much. It's because it's frightening to do so. It forces you to look inwards, to decide what kind of person you are.
There's a lot of anger in the world today, and hatred. A lot. Anger is easy. Anger is comfortable. And we're very good at justifying our anger to ourselves. King fought against that anger, with peace. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who too fought violence with peace. And both King and Gandhi paid the ultimate sacrifice to do what they felt was right.
So it's understandable why we don't want to think about it. Some of us don't agree with them, though we may not admit as much. Some of us don't understand the scope of what they were a part of. Most of us, I think, accept that they were brave men who tried to make positive change in the world. But if we accept that, but do nothing to continue their noble struggle, that too is hard. Does it make us cowards? Does it mean we're too afraid?
|Martin Luther King Jr.|
Public Domain Image
People are inherently selfish. That's not a recrimination. That's simply our biology. And self-sacrifice to such a huge extent is very difficult. I can understand turning a blind eye to what they did. Because I too tend to think in an all-or-nothing way. I think I either have to do everything, or do nothing. I either dive 100% into something, or not at all. But you and I don't need to dedicate our lives to the struggle of guaranteeing equal rights and respect to all individuals. At least, not by ourselves.
What King and Gandhi tried to do was start a movement, and in a large way they did. They wanted to encourage all men and women to think with love in their hearts. It wasn't a matter of right and wrong, but of mutual respect and appreciation. To be willing to set aside our anger and look upon one another with open minds and open hearts.
That is something each of us can choose to do, right now. We don't need to try to change others. We only need to change ourselves. And you have power over yourself. You control your thoughts and feelings. Often times we feel like victim of our emotions. We blame external forces. But those are excuses. Each of us can swallow our pride and allow our souls to be vulnerable.
That is not easy. I know because I struggle with it. I have made many mistakes, mistakes I'd like to ignore so that I don't live in guilt. But none of us are born perfect. It's OK to screw up, to hurt people, as long as you learn from it. Each of us has the capacity to become the best version of ourselves. I see that in the athletic community. People work hard every day to make themselves stronger. I know I do.
I tend to internalize anger, to direct it at myself. Which is why it saddens me to see others direct it outwards. But I don't think that I'm better. Because being angry at myself lessens my ability to be forgiving of others. You must forgive yourself first. You must have love inside of you to give love. Otherwise what you're putting out isn't love. It's just a desire to not be alone. Ultimately we all want validation and relevance. If our friends are loving, we are loving too. But if our friends are angry, then we too are angry.
Public Domain Image
It's hard to go against the tide, especially with people you care deeply about. Even today there are people who feel hurt because of me. And even if I love them, the end result is that they're suffering because of me. Maybe it's because I did something wrong, maybe not. Often it's just misunderstanding, or unmet expectations. As is often the case, I internalize that too.
I have to stop doing that, stop blaming myself. I honestly don't feel I am the selfish person I used to be. I try very hard to be compassionate and understanding. I try to see both sides in an argument, to understand why everyone feels how they do. It's never cut and dry, never. It's too easy to say so-and-so is 100% wrong. To avoid our own culpability.
I admit that I suck at communication. I tend to withdraw when someone is upset. I just accept the guilt and blame, and swallow it down. That's not a good response. It makes them feel they're right, to ignore the fact that they've hurt me. And it makes it harder for me to be open and compassionate in the future. I feel like if I can absorb someone's pain, it'll take their pain away. But what it really does is amplify pain.
I don't have advice or a solution. I'm thinking out loud. It's the point of this blog. It forces me to think about things in a linear fashion, to come to some realizations. And I hope it helps others be thoughtful too. As you can see, I'm far from perfect. But I at least consider myself blessed to be introspective. I've learned a lot just from thinking.
I'm blessed in life. I know that. When looking at what King did, he fought for people who did not have all of the opportunities that I did. And if I don't take advantage of my good fortune to help others, then I am part of the problem. That doesn't mean I should sit and feel guilty. It means I should embrace the positivity in my life and spread it to others. I should be thankful, so that I behave from a place of joy.
Creating a better world for ourselves and our children is hard. It's a burden. But it's a burden none of us has to take on alone. And when love prevails, it spreads, and enriches each of us. But so too does anger work in this way. It is a force of nature. It may seem unstoppable.
It is not.
Each of us has a capacity for change. For personal engagement. For love.
|Martin Luther King. Public Domain Image.|
Note: I typically use my own images in my posts. Occasionally I use a friend's image, and I make sure to credit them. The images above are Public Domain images, taken either from Wikipedia or Google. As a writer and photographer, it's important to me to respect the work of others: Artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and so on. I feel this is important to mention in the context of this post. Very very often I see my friends on Facebook and elsewhere post images that they do not credit. This has always bothered me a great deal, though trying to fight the battle would only cause me to lose friends. But I can at least mention it here. It's one more thing we can do to show respect for others.