Dr. King teaches, as humans we are born neither inherently hostile, nor inherently friendly. Instead, we are born with the capacity to choose. We can choose to, and thus be, both good and bad. We can choose to unify or choose to disunify. To create harmony, or chaos. Cynicism and despair, on the other hand, point to the history of war, conflicts, and violence, and conclude that humanity is essentially bad.
We cannot forget history. Nor can we ignore systems of exploitation that promote greed, selfishness, and hatred. King prophesied that if American democracy gradually disintegrates, it will be due, as much to a lack of insight, as to a lack of commitment to do right. In order to transform ourselves and our nation, we must own this capacity to be indifferent and unjust.
Nonviolence asserts that humanity tilts essentially towards good, that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. This is reflected in our actions. Every minute of every day offers the opportunity to carry out conduct that heals and unifies. To give a handshake instead of a punch. To smile instead of frown. To share our culture’s recipes with someone else, and to cook another culture’s dish. These conducts of peace will lead to the perpetuation of justice.
We live in a time where all people on the Earth are now neighbors in a World House. Modern scientific and technological revolutions have brought us closer together, such that no person and no nation can live alone. In this World House, Dr. King teaches, “Actually time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Let us lean into our capacity to do right . Let us speak up, speak out, and choose to work daily for justice.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Strength to Love. New York, Harper & Row, 1963. Sixteen sermons and one essay entitled “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.”
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait. New York, Harper & Row, 1963.