Monday, January 14, 2013

Do Lessons from Dr. King Remain Unlearned?

Tomorrow will mark what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 83rd birthday . As the nation reflects on the life of Dr. King, one cannot help but recall the way his young life ended. In his prophetic last speech, King seemed to have his own mortality on his mind. He stated "like anyone I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now." He would fall to an assassin's bullet the following day. With the horrific tragedy in Newton, Connecticut still fresh in our national conscience, the memory of Dr. King reminds us of lives cut short before they could reach their full potential. Thoughts of Columbine, the Kennedy brothers, King and others cross our minds as we wonder what could have led a human being to such extreme measures.  How could the people responsible for these murders become so detached from normal societal norms?  

Truth be told, I wrote a similar article last year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Last year the subject was not Newton, but revolved around the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  That shooting and many that followed touched off a firestorm of debate. Whether for or against gun regulation, sharing your particular view will undoubtedly lead to angry responses, insults, lost friends and even threats of bodily harm.  Don't believe me?  Go on Facebook or Twitter and simply state "I am for/against gun control."  

As an experiment, I posted on twitter using a fictitious account.  In one post I stated that there should be a ban on military assault weapons.  I argued that we have regulations on hand grenades, why not assault rifles?  One incensed man tweeted that he would put a bullet in my head and that I was a Communist.  Later I posted that the Constitution affords American citizens the right to bear arms.  Another man replied that people like me were the reason that children were massacred in Connecticut.  

Being uncivil has become commonplace in America.  You may recall Governor Paul LePage once told the NAACP to "kiss my butt" when declining an invitation to speak at a MLK Jr. celebration.  Congressmen shout insults in open sessions of Congress.  Critics attacked the Republican governor of New Jersey for working with a Democrat president during Hurricane Sandy.  They accused the president of grandstanding for the cameras during a political race.  Reports indicate that Congressman Boehner actually told Congressman Reid to go F*** himself.

 I can only wonder what some of these pundits would have said about Robert Kennedy as he stood on the back of a truck imploring the nation not to turn to violence over King's death.  He was, after all, in the midst of a presidential run.  Would they have accused him of grandstanding?  Have we really become so distrustful and cynical of each other?

With the anonymity of social media, users don't think twice to ignore societal norms.  It is easier to call someone a jackass behind an anonymous post. As we enter the next chapter of our American life, I think its important to recall the words of Robert Kennedy following the death of Dr. King.  "What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another".  If we can accomplish that, maybe we can fulfill Dr. King's dream. 


Anonymous said...

It would truly be a great day if the people of the US could finally see past such petty things. I personally am of the opinion that uninformed/misinformed people are driven/guided/directed largely by fear. People who's opinions/stances differ in things like partisan politics, sexual orientation, religious/non-religious affiliations, physical differences, etc... become focus points to channel that fear into something else... hate. I am suddenly reminded of a fictitious little green man who once said, "Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to suffering. I see now that the little guy was onto something.

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