While many of us recognize that Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspirational figure in American history, in the busyness of our lives we may forget at times just how empowering and brilliant his words were. As the time nears to commemorate him, we might wonder how we can model ourselves after a man who did so much, who gave so much? It feels a bit impossible because most of us aren’t influential or powerful; we are regular people living regular lives.
You’ve likely heard the MLK Jr. quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But how do we help bend that arc in our small ways? Is it even worth the trouble?
In a 1957 speech in Montgomery, Alabama, MLK Jr. spoke about loving one’s enemies. Enemies don’t have to be mortal foes who we would slay in a heartbeat if given the chance. In our minds, enemies are often people who just rub us the wrong way. People who when we see them on the street, we go the opposite way. Enemies can also be family members. We may have an enemy within ourselves. In our modern world, we often find enemies on social media. People who make flippant or thoughtless posts that we read and become enraged by or who seem to attack us unprovoked. All because we shared our opinion and they don’t like it.
It becomes all too easy to feel a sense of anger, maybe even rage, toward them, doesn’t it? We begin to slowly muster feelings of contempt for them. We tell ourselves that we literally hate them.
Here is what MLK Jr. had to say about that feeling of hatred in that speech:”…Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life.”
There are so many quotes about love, hope and justice from this man who deserves to be remembered and celebrated because of what he gave to us. Another favorite is this quote:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Perhaps as you think about MLK Jr. on MLK, Jr. Day, especially if you aren’t attending a service or event, also think about ways that feelings of hatred might be destroying your center, eating away at the best parts of you. It is perfectly okay to set boundaries and to protect your mental health first if you do not want to interact with someone. But when we allow ourselves to go down the slippery slope of hate, this often does more to harm us than it does to the people we say we hate. Spend real time meditating on love and all of the beauty of love. Love is a gift for all of us. Talk with the people and the children in your life about how not to let a boundary you’d like to assert bleed into the area of hate. This is self-care. This is you taking care of you and feeling good about who you are as a person and how you handle problems. Hate is darkness and if you allow it to fester it will cast a shadow over who you are as a person. We were made to love. Remember that. Have the courage to hold on to the words of Dr. King all year long. Happy birthday to you, Dr. King.