“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the
– Martin Luther King Jr., Let Nobody Turn Us Around
Martin Luther King’s words have given strength to millions, one step at a time he and his family led alongside others, the Civil Rights Movement. For any of us embarking or already upon the path of recovery or of any journey in life, taking things one step or one day at a time, staying within the moment rather than projecting into the past or future is of profound help. His words and thoughts resonate with us.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born into an America in which prejudice and racism were commonplace, a country founded on white supremacy. An America in which some leaders used inflammatory language to illicit fear, hatred, or resentment of others. An America in which through means of direct and legal forms of repression some people(s) were kept in varying states of poverty. From this standpoint, he envisaged a world in which black and white people might one day have the same standing, “To my children… For whom I dream that one day soon, they will no longer be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. (M.L.King, Why We Can’t Wait)
Slavery was in 1865 in America, however racial segregation in schools, public places, and public transport; was a divided and institutionally unequal world. Where black people were paid less than white people for completing the same jobs, where systemically black life was valued less than white.
In the South, when Martin grew up a grown man or woman could be called “boy” or “girl”, to relegate their importance, to make people feel less than and small. To keep people repressed and down.
When Martin was at college he studied Gandhi, whom he later went to visit with his wife Coretta to learn how the methods and policies of nonviolent protest which Gandhi had employed with such success in removing British colonial rule from India might be employed by the Civil Rights Movement in ‘60’s America. Gandhi helped Martin confront the evils of segregation and racism, with non-violence. This method legitimised the Movement and gave them the moral and ethical upper hand when dealing with and
Martin Luther King maintained throughout his life that love wins over hatred. In his book Where Do We Go from Here (1967), he said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil”.
It can be hard today to understand or at least imagine, how much prejudice, Black people have faced through displacement and movement from their geographical origin, through slavery and enforced bondage. Historical injustices suffered by any people at the hands of another throughout history can create real and in a sense, justified resentment and anger. Especially if those injustices, to an extent continue today.
In today’s world, division and discord are being utilised in political systems to manipulate voters to great effect. Much hope and strength is given by the sheer moral and ethical goodness of King’s philosophy and teachings. Of the accession to the path of nonviolence not only in deed but in word.
On 15th September 1963 Birmingham Street Baptist Church witnessed a terrorist attack by members of the Klu Klux Klan, which killed four teenage girls and injured 22 others. The Civil Rights movement, which King had held on the path of nonviolence, was mired in an understandable human desire to seek bloody retribution against the perpetrators. However, King held the movement through a great council on a path of nonviolence. In doing this he legitimised the movement by maintaining moral rectitude and with it, the view that the black peoples of America were capable of maintaining great dignity when shown hatred by others. The moral and ethical high ground was truly theirs. “Nonviolent resistance… is a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love”. (King, Stride Towards Freedom, page 80). The accession that one form of violence breeds another form of violence.
Shortly after this President Kennedy, who had been an influential figure in the Civil Rights movement was assassinated; “It ought to be possible for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or colour” (John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Act). The next President, Lyndon Johnson, said the best way to honour Kennedy was to seal the Civil Rights Bill which he had helped move forward greatly. The Bill made discrimination in public businesses and places, illegal and had the power to force schools to end segregation.
In our day-to-day lives, most people do not experience physical violence. However, I wonder how many of us experience or perpetuate verbal, mental, or psychological violence in every day. These can be very subtle, from passive aggression within the work environment. To people experiencing violent communication in a scenario such as road rage or coercive control in a relationship. To truly adhere to a path of nonviolence, I think we must all reflect on not only our actions but our words and indeed our thoughts. “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent he refuses to hate him” (King, Stride, 85) I wonder how many of us when we truly examine our feelings, find ourselves practicing nonviolence of word and deed consistently throughout our day.
King always managed to communicate in a manner that helped to inspire and set a healthy, positive example to others. To show that their views, hopes, and dreams are heard and represented. He helped to empower others rather than to practice power over others and he built real connections in people’s hearts and minds so that they might also carry this message of love out into the world.
Nonviolent communication, termed by Marshall Rosenberg, is a term that recognises that humans have a capacity for empathy and compassion for others and that people resort to violent behaviour when their needs are not being met, in some way. Our current age often sees people express hatred through the means of social media, chat rooms, and angry, callous words used as headlines or clickbait by politicians and media outlets. The challenge is for us to spread harmony through non-violence with strength and vigor as King did. By using love and positivity of word and deed to further the contribution to humanity by persons like Martin Luther King.
Just to leave on the note of recovery and indeed for many setbacks and difficulties in life, active addiction is many times a refusal or fear of moving forward, an attempt to control a moment, to stay static in a point of chemical removal from the moment. King said, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Wherever we are in life, at whatever point, if we can keep even a little faith, we will keep moving forward.
Samuel A. SmithBack to resources