"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies...True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: 'This is not just.' It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: 'This is not just.'"
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. 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 business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and 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.
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
In 2009, in the midst of yet other illegal wars, with a Congress well-funded by corporations profiting from such wars, and following a presidential campaign in which the candidates of both major parties were beholden to their corporate benefactors, it is doubtful that King's "revolution of values" will come from any of our elected leaders. If we truly "recall the fullness of his message," it is we ourselves who are called to act today to make the "great revolution of values" happen for us, and for our children. As King said, near the end of that Riverside Church speech ..."We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late."
How can we put Dr. King's words into action? He gave us a hint in a speech, "Where Do We Go From Here?" which he gave later that same year, on August 16, 1967, at the SCLC Conference in Atlanta, Georgia:
"And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love... What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. What has happened is that we have had it wrong and confused in our own country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience."
"Power devoid of love and conscience" is exactly what we in the U.S. have been blighted with for at least the past eight years, but which has also been the modus operandi of all governments, whether they call it "realpolitik" or "pragmatism," for most of human history. That is why "reform" will not suffice. That is why "a radical revolution of values is needed now, meaning "radical" in both the sense of "extreme" and "going to the root of," and "revolution" as in "overthrowing" the accepted, but continuously failing, value system of our culture.
The "love" of which King speaks is not the sentimental, Hallmark-card variety. It is not a mushy, "bleeding-heart liberal" emotion. It is a very active verb. Its closest meaning in English is demonstrating "compassion" and "empathy" (not mere "sympathy"), two words which carry within them the meanings of putting oneself in the place of those who are suffering, of "feeling the way they feel", not just "feeling for them." Out of this compassion comes the realization not only of our literal as well as moral kinship, but of the need for justice or fairness for those suffering and oppressed, especially due to our values and our way of living. It is the basis of the Golden Rule as well as of our own Declaration of Independence.
Therefore, it requires not only feelings, but actions which put that compassion and empathy into practice on personal and local levels, and especially on national and international levels. This is the power which, "...at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best...correcting everything that stands against love." The policies and programs, environmental, social, and economic, which we must now demand of our leaders at this crucial time of human and environmental crises, especially in this, the most influential nation on earth, should and must be policies of compassion and justice which embody King's "radical revolution of values."
Let us commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not only as a civil rights or anti-war leader, but as a world leader against the ethic of greed, materialism, and exploitation -- what he termed "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism" -- and for the values of compassion and justice for all people, especially the poor and powerless, both at home and abroad. It is precisely those roles which are his true, lasting legacy to all of us today, and we can best and truly celebrate his legacy by putting those "revolutionary" values into practice in our personal and public lives.
We ignore, or choose to forget this full legacy, not only to our shame and peril, but to that of future generations.
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Ed is a conscientious objector to war, a retired teacher, a writer, and a full-time peace and justice activist with special concerns about climate chaos, economic justice, and nuclear weapons.
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