I have been thinking a lot lately about civility. I asked a friend, who is famous for his joy, about how to stay positive and peaceful in today’s world. In response, he sent me an audio copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s final speech known as his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. I have listened to it a half a dozen times this week and reread it almost as many times.
Fifty years after they were spoken, Dr. King’s words haunt me, but at the same time, bring me incredible hope. In his final public address, he emphasized the need for non-violence in everything we do, no matter what. “We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody,” he said. “[…] We are saying that we are God’s children.”
Spend five minutes with any news source and you will conclude as I do that we face many challenges as a society today. But, in the United States, our daily struggles do not compare to the fire hoses and police dogs that Dr. King’s followers bravely faced. Undeterred by insults, physical violence and even all too real threats against his life, Dr. King did not return fire in word or deed.
What Legacy Will You Leave?
As I contemplate Dr. King’s words and life, I realize that we must make a constant effort to respect all of our neighbors. These days, it is so easy to be drawn into controversy and conflict, whether on the internet or within our own families. Dr. King’s words, “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness,” spoken in his final address, should serve as an example to us. His legacy teaches us that we don’t have to treat one another poorly merely to drive home a point—we have too much work to do together.
This is a fact we all know but have a hard time keeping in focus. I am struck that the planet’s major faiths all hold a similar primary tenant to serve as a constant reminder:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do for you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus, Matthew 7:12, NIV
Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.
The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.
Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a
This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18
Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.
Imagine where we would be today if over the past 50 years we heeded the words that many profess to be sacred.
Imagine the amazing things we can do if we truly live by the spirit of these words for the next five years.
In case no one tells you today: I believe in you. I believe in your ability to express love and civility and to put Dr. King’s dream into action.