There have been too many relatively young men and women who have struggled for causes greater than themselves and whose lives have been cut short, leaving us, and their causes, prematurely. Oftentimes, their contributions and lives are embellished nigh unto sainthood by adulating adherents. Such is the case with Martin Luther King, Jr. But it shouldn’t be; for his example and teachings are of such grandeur and durability that they stand as monuments to his memory, requiring no inflation beyond the reality.
Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from MLK is validation of the principle behind Thomas Jefferson’s immortal citation, “One man with courage is a majority.” One person can make a difference, especially if truth and justice are on their side. When so principally armed, one person can affect an entire nation for good.
The nation that was divided by racial issues in MLK’s era is now polarized ideologically. Yet the precepts he espoused, and the doctrine he taught, can apply with as much pertinence and relevance to the ideological chasm that seems to be schismatically separating the right from the left today.
How ironic it is, therefore, that the principles he most ardently proclaimed are so demeaned by the left and the mainstream media in the context of today’s ideological divide. If MLK is to be extolled and praised for his principles, we must embrace all of those teachings that are at once indelibly impressed on our minds as self-evident truths.
Of those, his most oft stated were the appeals for morality and freedom. “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control…When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Values, life, and liberty are perhaps the most repeated catchwords of the contemporary Tea Party movement. If those principles are self-evident truths, and accepted as such by MLK in the context of a civil rights movement, they are no less viable in the context of the current ideological movement, attempting to throw off the yoke of slavery of an omnipotent and omnipresent government.
MLK’s teachings were framed in a culture of racism and racial discord, but they apply universally to all Americans in the quest for individual liberty. As he said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Certainly, those are wise words of encouragement to those of us who object to the usurpation of individual freedom by a government seeking to micromanage its citizens.
He continued, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Individual and universal freedom was fundamental to him. Not just freedom from racism, but freedom, period. Subservience to any form of societal or governmental despotism is anathema to a nation founded on individual liberty.
He reaffirmed this basic tenet when he declared, “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.”
These founding principles should be applied universally, not selectively or discriminately. But to do so, it is requisite that we collectively rise above the politics of self-interest. For as he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” And as if to underscore this notion, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
Sounding very much like Edmund Burke, MLK declared, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Yes, one person can make a difference, when armed with the truths of freedom, life, and morality. MLK made such a difference; and every American can likewise stand for, and uphold, those eternal verities.
It’s rather disruptive to conventional ideological classifications when we realize such advocacy for individual freedom and liberty are met with as much animus and bigotry today as it was 50 years ago. Considering that our nation was founded on these precepts, they should be unifying, rather than divisive principles.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.