Saturday, January 22, 2011
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often referred to his support of the concept of “The Beloved Community – One where all conflicts should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.” Idealistic, almost beyond comprehension, when we look out at all of the turmoil in our world. Is it a dream or a reachable goal? How about in our little corner of the world herein our Pocatello area?
Our community has a reputation as a caring, involved, volunteer oriented people. There are too many examples to list here in support of this statement. Yet we are all “imperfect”, as nations, as states, as communities, as individuals. There are also many examples when we don’t seem to care for or love each other much.
At times, it seems that political conflicts, acts of terrorism, of hatred, of bullying, of random violence serve to divide us more than bringing us together. These acts can divide us by creating walls, metaphorically and spiritually, from which we can hide behind or shield us from having to see or deal with injustices. Dr. King often stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I agree!
So, how do we respond to injustice, to hate, to bullying, to violence, in our little corner of the world, in our “community”? Indifference?
Elie Wiesel, who survived the Nazi Holocaust, and was a Nobel Peace Prize recipient said in a speech at the White House on April 12, 1999: “Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell. The hungry children. The homeless refugees. Not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.”
So if we choose not to be “indifferent”, not to be the hopeless pessimist, or driven by hate, how do we respond? How do we make our community a more safe, a more accepting, a more livable community than it already is?
One way, among many, is to choose our words more carefully when we speak to each other. While words have the power to inform or inspire, they can also degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize. The more we allow hatefulness or dehumanizing of anyone, the easier it becomes to take that hate to the next level, and to the next, until our “humanity” might cease to exist.
Let us accept that none of us have all the right answers. I certainly do not pretend to. While we can have varying perspectives on a variety of issues, we are after all, imperfect human beings. This concept of imperfection should not, however, excuse supporters of divisiveness, of hate, or of violence, from being responsible for their words or what actions can result from their words.
We can choose to speak out or act in support of the concept of “justice” in many ways, large and small. We can join or support human rights groups, internationally or locally
We can practice and acknowledge small acts of kindness, which most of you do in different ways everyday. For example, the simple act of holding a door open for someone, or having it held open for me, resonates in meaningful ways larger than the act itself. It is simple. It takes a few seconds. It is an act of humility, respect, kindness, an act of affirmation to someone you might not even know. By the way, to the middle school student who recently glanced back, saw me at the bottom of the stairs at school and consciously made the decision to wait and hold the door for me, a public “shout out”, a public thank you.
Yes, I still occasionally mutter under my breath, “say thank you”, when someone doesn’t acknowledge my small act of holding a door for them. We all crave acknowledgement to a degree. However, any kind act, any act of civility should not be done based on receiving acknowledgement for doing so, it is based on the values of the person holding the door. It is your recognition of who you are.
So, is ours a “livable” community, when it comes to justice and human rights? Well we have laws in place to address specific issues, such as job discrimination and others. Eventually it comes down to how we treat each other as human beings, as individuals and as groups.
Back to Dr King’s support of “the Beloved Community” concept. Idealistic? Absolutely! It does not say that conflicts will not happen. It appeals to the potential for “reconciliation of adversaries cooperating”. A dream? Reachable? I believe so, in this sense. We must each find that “Beloved Community” within ourselves, individually, within our value system. That is possible. Then we can help to spread it to our family, to our friends, to our churches, our Pocatello community, and outward.
It is good to have hope.
To be idealistic.
Let us lead the way!
Elmer Martinez is a retired firefighter, former legislator, and founding member of 2Great4Hate. He lives in Pocatello.