Tuesday, August 17, 2010

That Martin Luther King, Jr... he's not bad

Everybody knows MLK, right? Everybody knows he's a good guy who did good stuff. But I've never actually been exposed to his writing before. I've heard lots of things ABOUT King, but until recently I've never actually read his own words.

This guy was a force of nature.

If you've never done it, you should go read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I'm working through it for the first time, and I'm staggered by the guy's depth of thought. This man wasn't just a good orator, he was a great thinker. The whole thing is quotable, but this part was big for me right now:

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever... If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.

I'm not an oppressed minority. But I do sometimes think "I shouldn't feel this way." I think I should force myself not to be discontent.

News flash: it doesn't work that way.

Instead of trying to force myself to feel differently (or just happily wallowing in my discontent), it's far more constructive when I identify positive behaviors and channel any discontent towards those behaviors. MLK figured it out over 50 years ago, I'm figuring it out today, and you may have figured it out years before me.

But if it's new to you, or if you've forgotten, now is a pretty good time to start.

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