It seems that the desire for change is gripping our world. The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the discontent among American voters, political reforms in Myanmar signify cries around the globe for sociopolitical transformation. It’s not a new message, but humanity seems to be at a crossroads where the need for change outweighs the fear of uncertainty.
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, a man who gave his life leading the change that was gonna come. As a preacher, pastor, and social activist he had a deep concern for those oppressed because of poverty, racism, and militarism. He called them The Triple Evils:
Poverty – unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, slums…
There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.
Racism – prejudice, apartheid, ethnic conflict, anti-Semitism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against disabled groups, stereotypes…
Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group.
Militarism – war, imperialism, domestic violence, rape, terrorism, human trafficking, media violence, drugs, child abuse, violent crime…
A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
These sound like prophetic words for today, but this comes from his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? In fact, I recently finished a book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It contained many of the same threads of an interdependent humanity and nonviolent solutions are possible and within us.
They are the same threads I found reading all of the lectures given by the Nobel Peace laureates! I discovered that all of the Nobel Laureate lectures are posted on the Nobel Prize’s website when I was preparing my blog post on this year’s three women awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Fascinating reading that I recommend for everyone!
Interestingly, all of the great Nobel Peace laureates are rooted and grounded is some sort of faith or spiritual tradition. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 laureate, was grounded in Christianity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the 1989 laureate, is Buddhist. Others have been Jewish or Muslim or blends of traditions. What is the same is the profound and abiding commitment to bring change for our world.
It’s hard to imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. as an 83 year old man had he not been assassinated in 1968. And to think that 1968 was 44 years ago … a generation. As we are experiencing across the globe today, a new generation, like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman are taking up the mantles of those who have gone before, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, Menachem Begin, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, the Dalia Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and many, many others.
Combatting The Triple Evils – poverty, racism, and militarism – is as relevant today as it was a generation ago. In fact, we’re no longer affected by what goes on in our country alone nor can we turn our gazes away from what is happening on the other side of the globe. We are more interconnected and interdependent than ever. A change is gonna come and we must be a part of that change.
Sunday bonus: Music played an important role in the protests and Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Sam Cooke wrote A Change Is Gonna Come out of his own experience of discrimination and racism. Many consider this song one of the anthems of the American Civil Rights movement.