Defeat Apathy. Improve Society. (A model and an encouragement to do something small for a huge purpose.)
(Don't forget to check this out on Medium.com for the pics. If you go there, give it a clap or two!)
Most people want to affect the world for good, yet through apathy, many of us do nothing to make it happen. Apathy is based on believing that either we or our efforts will not make a difference. Knowing self and living the purpose we create and pursue alleviates apathy.
When we push through apathy, small actions may make a massive difference. Something as simple as reading an article or book, interpreting and applying it for yourself, and taking any action based on new, personalized insights produces some of the good we wish to see in the world.
With that in mind, I offer the second full chapter of my upcoming book, Superhero You! and Society. It is simultaneously something for you to engage with and a model of how I did the same with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, work. It’s long for a post here, I know; however, I believe it will resonate with some readers and evoke action from others.
Chapter 2 — The Rationale and Justification for the Work of Justice
As I continue reading Dr. King’s letter, I am reminded of something Walt Whitman wrote about readers and writers: “Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does” (Whitman 500–501). [Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Selected Prose. Edited by James E. Miller, Jr., University of Chicago, 1959.] Writing presents the reader with a choice: Will we give breath and life to the words, or shall they lie static, unused, and unenergized on the page?
This letter from Dr. King illustrates that when something moves one’s mind and soul, action must follow or the impetus of those words die. When he read injustice not only in the laws and writings of the past but also in the horrible practices of the inhumanity expressed in his time, he could not sit still. He acted in response to the letter that those seven clergymen had published: “…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” (King 2). Even though the words were aimed as an arrow at him, he still took action: their words prompted a response that galvanized oppressed and awakened souls.
I must ask myself some questions and decide on my responses. Do I see injustices in my time that vibrate along the same frequencies as the rabid bigots and segregationists of Dr. King’s time? If so, how will I give voice to my feelings? Do I need to do so? If, in fact, as Dr. King writes in this portion, we are all “tied together in a single garment of destiny” (King 2), how do I show that?
I want to give life to the words. I want others to feel the sharpness, roughness, and uneasiness of injustice. I chew them up for others to taste the hatred, the injustice, and the possibilities. I project these words onto a screen to show the shadows and demons as well as the bright prospects produced by love triumphing over hate. I yawp them to shatter the silence and stillness of those who sit placidly pretending all is well. I waft the stench of inhumanity and injustice that has been institutionalized, believed, and adopted as “normal,” and just as surely, I diffuse the sweet aroma of spiritual awakening, understanding, mutual appreciation, and valuation of fellow souls. Yes, I respond to these words, Dr. King, and here is my engagement.
Even though many may reject our expressions of love, anything done in love is from Spirit. (Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)The Love Letter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
Working for justice should not really require justification or a rationale, but ego doesn’t like the idea of justice for all — only justice for me, justice for those who are like me. Egotists will often make self-righteous demands from those who seek to act for the oppressed. Slave owners argued that they provided for their slaves. Segregationists claimed that African Americans had schools, hospitals, and access to facilities for people of their race. Today, egotists claim that all is equal and integrated and if a minority feels oppressed, it’s their own fault because laws are in place, the Civil Rights Act has been passed, as well as the Voting Rights Act — even though the last has required being readdressed and extended into the 21st century.
Yes, the laws exist; however, who were they written by, and how are they enforced? When anyone takes a stand against oppressive practices, they are branded as lawbreakers and trouble makers. And so, egotists require an explanation from those working for justice.
Approaching this second paragraph in Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” I sense an honest, sincere love and respect — for all. He didn’t mind giving them the rationale they demanded. To me, this is a love letter. Dr. King expresses his love for his fellow clergymen, for people of color, for society in general, and even for those who oppress. Some may stumble at a love that would embrace enemies, but only love prompts anyone to shed light into the darkness of those oppressing them for the purpose of establishing a relationship.
Only love takes the time to arrange such an analysis, as Dr. King does, of problem situations with the goals of love and peace and mutual happiness. Only love would carry someone through so many years of relentless work and even more relentless criticism, attacks, and hatred in response to that work.
People who hate, oppress, and reject those who are different than themselves pervert their hatred into some sort of twisted expression of love, but they only clamor for love for their own ways of life, their own race, their own brand of religion. They pass off as love laws that denigrate, destroy, and enslave others; that’s not love. It’s simply disuised hatred.
True love does not require us to hate others, destroy others, or prevent others’ goals of happiness. The false love of the self-righteous doesn’t make anyone or anything great, especially a nation. Such love is veiled hatred. Such love attempts to redefine the word, perverts it, and confuses it. Such love infects rather than inspires. Unfortunately, such hatred called love abounds in our time.
Some recent examples may help. When legislators limit increases in minimum wage, they are knowingly affecting African Americans in a disproportionate way. When abortion bans go into effect and health service providers like Planned Parenthood are defunded, blacks are once again disproportionately hurt. Even as I begin this, I feel overwhelmed because the scope of this work isn’t to deeply examine political and social constructs of injustice. I could write about these examples and more: criminal sentencing inequities, underrepresentation of people of color in virtually all aspects of our society, lending and banking policies, and other issues.
I know the arguments that strict, right-wing, quasi-religious, power brokers put forth — these laws and actions are good for the country, most people just don’t see the big picture, and other arguments. Those who oppress through actions like limiting or eliminating health care and holding down minimum wages do so in order to preserve their power, maintain control, and increase their wealth. The arguments of the rich knowing the best courses of action for everyone else has nothing to do with love, freedom, or equal rights.
Dr. King knew the values embedded in the foundational documents of America intended equalities and freedoms for all concerned. He worked to appropriate those for African Americans and other minorities to claim freedom. He understood that true social, civil, and legal freedom for people of color would mean freedom for everyone, not only because “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King 2) but also because he saw the need for “carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” (King 20). That awareness marks love, for he knows that it will benefit the oppressors, too.
On page one of the nineteen pages, the second paragraph of the letter continues to show the Heart-energized spirit of Dr. King in employing logic and rationale — not a disingenuous rationalization. He answers the accusation that his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, are “outsiders coming in” to stir up trouble. He lays out the scope of the Conference’s work that extended to eighty-five locations, Birmingham being one.
The leadership of the Conference in Birmingham asked for help, if they deemed it beneficial. King assented and explains this to the white clergymen he addresses: “So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic organizational ties here.” This logical, firm refutation of one of the objections in the open letter from the clergymen exposes one underlying sentiment of the time: African Americans who desired freedom were considered agitators and threats to the white power base.
Once he has given the mind’s logic, Dr. King continues with his Heart-energized soul-light — a balanced blend of mind and soul evident when Heart is engaged rather than Ego. That first sentence of this paragraph reveals an expression of his soul’s purpose: “Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” (King 2). Understanding and feeling this, he had to act: love, go, and shed light: “I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town” (King 2). His purpose must show itself in loving care for others.
Before ending, I make some applications. When anyone discovers self and creates purpose, this is Heart-energy, Heart-work. Such awakening and spiritual consciousness helps us discover personal truth and produces fulfillment, significance, and self-love. Spiritual awakening and consciousness, then, precede effective social justice.
Debate, governance, legislation, and policy should be engaged in the energy of heart. Heart energy recognizes that each creature in this Universe contains the essence of Spirit and is inherently valuable. This knowledge will not eliminate challenges as to best courses of action, which is as it should be. We thrive when faced with challenges, but challenges answered in ego energy, at best, temporarily offer relief without resolution, and at worst, corrupt us to the core. To not awaken is to live primarily under ego-energy, and when that predominates, ugliness, unhappiness, and more will result: hatred, racism, or any variety of ill will.
And there sat Birmingham then. And here sits America now. The current call by a minority in the United States — significant and vocal — for some fairy-tale nation with a superiority complex thrown in the face of racial, cultural, and ethnic minorities here and the world abroad is unnecessary if we are acting on the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. We do the work, live the spirit, and evolve in “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Angry, hateful, boasting efforts to prove we are better will automatically erode, deny, or outright destroy those “certain unalienable rights.”
Dr. King exemplifies someone who was awakened, created purpose, and lived it. He was someone who expanded and came closer to fulfilling the spirit and unforeseen blessing of those founding documents, which weren’t always lived back then but must be recognized and pursued, lest they die. Lest we die. Evolving, progressing, facing challenges, and responding with Heart are good things. Genuine love.
(As always, cool pics with my posts on Medium.com!)
Awakening to spiritual consciousness engages the heart as the operating system to process life and make connections that involve commitment. In a society, we tend to make an agreement within ourselves, an agreement that says the nature of connection is worth speaking about, acting on, and promoting.
Seeking social justice requires commitment. In the Bible in Luke 14:28, Jesus spoke to crowds: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” (New International Version http://biblehub.com/niv/luke/14.htm). When facing challenges of a heart commitment, no matter how simple or how daunting, we must answer the question of whether or not we will see it through, regardless of the odds of success.
Ego will chime in to fulfill its purpose to protect, many times with “common sense” prods and pleas: “Hey, you’re not making enough money; you’re only helping a few; you’re causing problems; you need to quit now.”
Heart would simply say something like this: “All in!” This doesn’t mean questions, doubts, fears, ridicule, persecution, or hosts of other oppositions won’t appear. They will. Counting the cost means we are all in, we will face challenges, and we will enthusiastically, passionately, and intelligently engage life — on our own terms. All in means we move onward and upward.
Counting the Cost: If It’s Not All in, It’s Not Heart!
I wonder how often Dr. Martin Luther King was faced with his own ego-energy to just quit for his own safety, well-being, and peace of mind. In his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” he counted the cost of living his Heart-truth.
Dr. King and his people had been fed empty promises, and in patience and love, they acknowledged the difficulties and continued: “Like so many experiences of the past we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. …We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved” (King 3). He counted the cost realistically in terms of emotions and possible physical and legal ramifications. Counting the cost means preparing for eventualities, and for those dear souls, it meant having sufficient reasoning and sufficient rehearsal to be able to react appropriately to reprehensible ego responses.
No safety net, no part left out from under possible squishing. Knights of the Heart have counted the cost and are all in! (Photo by James Pond on Unsplash)Why would anyone subject themselves to such possibilities? Because they count the cost and determine that equality, love, and facing the challenges of the future together are worth every possibility of the retaliation and opposition of ignorant, ego-soaked souls.
Dr. King values the freedom he feels in his soul, but he experiences the spirit of slavery from an ego-guided society of white-controlled power, wealth, and superiority over minorities.
Therefore, Dr. King, knowing the fellowship and way of the Heart, engages in a four-step process of nonviolent campaigns, which are these: 1. Collection of the facts of injustice: “Birmingham[’s]…ugly record of police brutality…unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts…unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches” (King 3). 2. Attempts at negotiation: in“negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants — such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores…[therefore we] agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstrations…[t]he signs remained” (King 3). 3. Self-purification , which involves the concept of counting the cost because that is exactly what this step is about: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ ‘Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?’” (King 3). 4. Direct action: sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and peaceful demonstrations.
The facts of injustice had been collected in plain sight: “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States…police brutality…unjust treatment…in the courts…unsolved bombings.” Make no mistake here, please. Many would not then and do not even now call this injustice. Their judging ego, which seeks to isolate from the Other, creates barriers that are mistakenly believed to be for safety. Ego would prompt them to say African Americans suffered because of their own choices and actions. Choices and actions, however, are affected by the definitions of the controllers of society. They define what is safe, what is for the common good (their good), and what just treatment, rights, and freedoms are.
They could go to their white laws, to Supreme Court decisions like Plessy vs. Ferguson, and even Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education and say they had given freedoms to the black population. However, the fact that the above practices, not exceptions , of injustice remained show that ego reigned and reigns still.
Legislation can neither change ego-perceptions to heart-energy nor can it create morality. However, legislation can and should protect from ego actions that contradict the rights Jefferson and others outlined in founding documents. Heart actions and laws work toward resolutions, true peace, and human dignity in our connections and interrelatedness with one another.
Dr. King’s policy and practice of nonviolent direct action catalyzed heart-energized souls to be able to claim freedom, live in it, and pursue happiness. He pursued the step of negotiation, because he knew direct action would expose ego-energies and mean even greater challenges for his people. He and other leaders decided on several occasions to postpone protests to see if white power players would keep their word. They didn’t.
What were the simple requests for which they negotiated? To remove the “Whites Only” or “No Negros Allowed” type signs. When I was young, I witnessed these for myself in rural southeast Missouri, and I remember my confusion and eventual anger. It’s too bad we do not maintain youthful innocence about life.
No one wins if ego is enacted and favored when heart should be heard. Law and order should exist to limit ego bullshit. Law and order does not mean to force everyone to live up to the standards of a white, egoic power structure. Whites do not get to say how protests should occur — when, where, and what actions are acceptable or not.
I’m not referring to 1963 only; it has happened in St. Louis, Missouri, within the past few years: “They don’t get to block the highway like that. They have areas to protest in. They should not be in the mall.” This is sheer, egoic racism predicated on the superiority of one race.
We should count the cost of taking heart action, creating purpose, and living it in vision, mission, and daily goals. Dr. King did, as well as hosts of others. If they hadn’t, segregation would still be more the norm than it is now. The step of self-purification meant that protestors of Dr. King’s time had to face the questions of “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” If they couldn’t, they were discouraged from direct participation. If they were like those listening to Jesus in Luke 14, those who couldn’t face ego challenges would be those who stopped short of all-in heart work. Stopping short is ego work. It’s not wrong; it’s just deficit in terms of personal happiness. Ego-based rule creates unhappiness and hinders true freedom, and it enacts unjust laws.
On pages 7–9 of the “Letter…,” Dr. King points out the distinction between just and unjust laws. He says, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust” (King 7). Unjust laws are no laws at all, and as such should be acted against and protested against in order to raise awareness and overturn them. They should never be obeyed under the facade of keeping law and order, for they are only a control mechanism for those who through ego crave power, wealth, and control. Unjust laws are to be disobeyed. Dr. King and his followers entered into nonviolent direct action.
Dr. King makes it clear “that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action.” However, many would say they were irresponsible because many judged using ego instead of heart. The results of the direct action? They are well-known in the big picture. Dr. King understood and perceived the effects such work would have on society.
Counting the cost is an integral component of awakening to spiritual consciousness. In society, operating based on heart means connections with the Other matter. When we work to enact unbiased laws and policies, we seek social justice that protects the rights of all and works for the common good — not a “benevolent” 1%. Social justice begins internally, and the cost is greatest to ego. That’s not an easy challenge. It’s never finished; however, that produces a creative tension to move onward and upward.
(If you check my posts out on Medium.com, you can see the cool pics I have there!)
I know the concepts I write about are simultaneously simple and complicated; they must be because I write about humanity. Therefore, when I say we have a choice about the emotions we feel and the thoughts we think, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Discovering the essence of our nature is the start of spiritual awakening. I write about two operating systems with which we come equipped: ego and heart. The operation of those two forces within us creates complexity, a polarity; the human struggle for meaning, purpose, and relationship resides in this interplay.
We have a choice to awaken to Heart. When we do, courses of action, interaction, purpose, relationships, and life in general make more sense. Struggles and challenges continue; they always will because that’s part of why we come here: to explore, discover, innovate, and create.
Many challenges fall under the umbrella of the rights of humanity, natural rights, rights acknowledged in documents like the Declaration of Independence. When the Declaration says “all men are created equal” and that such a truth predicates “certain unalienable rights,” heart response says this means everyone — men, women, all races, ethnicities, etc.
Ensuring equality within the framework of a nation presents challenges, but none of those challenges should deny basic rights to anyone. The government should work for the common good — the most possible good to the most possible people down to the least among us without abridging others’ rights — is operative.
Choices about our actions, interactions, and reactions to such rights will be done, whether consciously or subconsciously, in the energy of Ego or Heart. Ego-energized choices aren’t necessarily wrong; they simply carry different consequences. However, when leaders or anyone else purposefully chooses Ego in known contradiction to Heart energy, that becomes a wrong for the rest of us whose rights would be abrogated.
Martin Luther King, Jr., chose, primarily, to work from Heart, and we can benefit from his wisdom. Therefore, I continue sharing my responses and interactions with his work.
I Think We’re Related! What Should We Do?
I’m thankful for Dr. Martin Luther King’s invitation to sit together at the table of brotherhood. As with any piece of writing, it’s incomplete until digested by the reader, until someone assigns meaning and relates personally to it.
I can meet with Dr. King about this because he makes a simple observation of a factual phenomenon: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states” (King 2). Any contact constitutes interrelatedness. After acknowledgment of the fact, Dr. King engages in self-awareness.
How do we personally respond and relate to things with which we connect in any way? While acknowledging our interrelatedness is simple, relating to that truth on a personal level is complex. We have a choice.
He responds like this: “I cannot sit idly by…” For him, his heart-energized purpose engaged him in the quest for justice. He gives the rationale for this reaction when he says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King 2). He spent most of his adult life in pursuit of this purpose of justice. He shares, here, his understanding. When Dr. King writes, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” this demands a response. He must do something with this reality that each human is not only made of the same cloth but also shrouded — all of us together — in one massive shawl.
His action begins with this statement: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King 2). This personal truth of his prompts him to action; he journeys from Atlanta to Birmingham and involves his organization in the nonviolent protests. For this, he is accused of being an “outside agitator” (King 2). He acted, and his actions show he is living his heart truth. Meaningful actions are based in solid beliefs, philosophies that hold us steady as we act.
The white power base knew a decision was required on their part, a decision in response to the message and action of Dr. King and those who followed him. They could join in the fellowship of the heart, or they could rebuke light, goodness, and love. White authorities put him in jail; for them, ego prevailed.
At our core, our essence, each of us is a Spirit-bearer; we each have heart. We have ego, too. The difference between outcomes from acting, feeling, sensing, making decisions, and any mind-soul-body function is whether the energy derives from ego or heart.
I try not to distinguish the energy source of others; matters of motivation belong to the individual. However, in trends of society, government, or culture, the prevailing energy manifests. Actions that strip anyone of their basic human dignities, rights, freedom, or equality, actions that tend to destruction, denigration, or degradation — those actions are based on beliefs fueled by ego.
It’s a choice. Choose heart energy. (Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash)Ego-fueled racists believe essential, rather than surface, differences exist, which make racism “logical”; therefore, they would say, we should maintain and reinforce those differences by isolating ourselves from the Other. This can occur in a variety of ways based on ego-charged yet ingenious minds. To those who operate in ego energy, segregation makes sense. Such people would not normally call themselves bigoted, prejudiced, or racist because they have used ego reasoning to convince themselves that their way is “natural.” Such reasoning is truth to the ego-fueled mind, but all have a choice. When we willfully choose ego over heart, we violate our highest Self, our core Self, and our ego-truths are plain, unvarnished lies against the heart.
Spirit witnesses with each of our hearts that we are humans, equal, blessed, and worthy of mutual consideration and treatment in love. This is love, enlightenment, and our true nature. Dr. King knew, believed, and lived this.
The facts that we are “interrelated” and “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” demand a response, because we are human. Like a tuning fork thumped on the side of the hand, Dr. King’s sentiments and his truths vibrate in today’s world seeking hearts with which they resonate. Our interrelatedness has been accelerated technologically and economically, and more than ever our mutuality has been irrevocably established. We must choose to either love in heart or hate in ego those to whom we are linked. The love or hate may be manifested across a spectrum of words and deeds, but it boils down to each one of us making our choice.
In that light, it’s not so difficult to understand protests or protestors. How do we feel about those who are treated unjustly under the guise of law and order to protect a favored race’s status quo? Do we see ourselves being treated unfairly in such scenarios? Dr. King did: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (King 2). Jesus said when any act, whether borne of hatred or love, is done to the least, the poorest, the outcast, he felt it personally. Do we?
When you try to silence someone, why do you do it? So you can be heard and shut them up? Because you know you’re better? It’s called oppression in the larger social context.
Social issues like racism, oppression, poverty, sexism, and poor health care result from social injustices. Social justice alleviates many of the negative impacts of these and other injustices.
Some would and should, I hope, ask how to engage in and effect social justice. While challenging and difficult in practice, the answer is simple. Ensure those “certain unalienable rights” for all, and I mean all, without favoritism, without prejudice, and without the negative influences of Ego.
Those who have suffered oppression in the past should have first consideration. Women, Indigenous People, African Americans, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and others have been discriminated and legislated against, along with Nature and the environment. Oppression and denial of rights at the plea of the economy, wealth, jobs, or any inconvenience should never happen.
The following is the first actual chapter from my second book, Superhero You! and Society. Yes, it’s long, but I want to give it in complete chapters.
(All following Dr. King quotes are from http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf.)
Chapter 1 — The Issues at Hand
Voice is an interesting aspect of life. When those with power, control, and wealth silence those unlike them, oppression occurs, voice is lost, and freedom for all is a meaningless, empty, pathetic phrase.
Voice can be expressed from the energy of two sources with which we come equipped. One is ego and the other is heart. Ego betrays our highest Self, the Self which I call heart, but ego does not do so on purpose; it’s simply how we are made, what we come equipped with, and how ego functions. Ego forces conformity and then, ironically, isolates us from sharing heart with one another. We need the operating system of ego to begin with, but at some point we awaken and choose heart to be our primary operating system, the dominant energy that will drive and influence our thoughts, emotions, actions, and reactions. This is a daily, almost moment to moment, choice.
Somewhere deep within each human being, we know we have a “birthright of freedom” (King 12). This knowledge emanates from heart, from the identification with and reality of our innate divinity. Eternal heart within us cannot be bound and gagged without revolt, neither by our own ego nor that of others.
When our heart discovers mortal, ego-energized limits and oppressions have been erected to corral all of our divine nobility and our unlimited possibilities, heart whispers, “Justice.” To remain silent is to silence Spirit within. This is not possible for long without soul-draining, humanity-degrading consequences manifesting in both personal life and society.
Furthermore, any who personally deny injustices out of ego-fear or comfort or a desire to maintain the status quo are lying to themselves; they silence their own inner voice and highest self. They oppress themselves and, thereby, reinforce and add energy to those who design the enslavement and oppression to begin with. Society should expect that some will rise up to shed light on the darkness of oppression, and that illumination may take myriad forms.
The form employed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. He details that in his 1963 “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” where he was being held for parading without a permit, which he addresses in the letter. The reality was he and those following him marched in nonviolent protest in order to continue exposing the bigotry, hatred, inequality, and continuing societal, legal, and spiritual enslavement of African Americans.
Dr. King and the others shining light into the darkness marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and this earned him his stay in jail. Those civil authorities, who showed themselves as egotistic fools, had no idea of the energy that they unleashed when they made this move of using a perfectly fine law for its unintended and illegal purpose. This leads me to ask what bridge am I willing to cross, and how will I respond to the consequences?
If I or my fellow mortal souls suffer oppression, especially close at hand, “to sit still would be a sin” (Shankman Hairspray). Some may march. Some display signs, sit-in at lunch counters, or make their presence and cause known in a multiplicity of ways. For me, this book is part of my response.
Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on UnsplashIn my past, I have been guilty of evaluating the actions of others based on my thought frameworks. Paradigms of reasoning are different for most minority subcultures. It is not an easy idea for someone from the predominant, ruling majority — the rule-makers, lawmakers, standard setters — to think outside of that privileged, often sickening little box. What do I mean? Neither I nor any other white male has the right to judge the way others respond to oppression, yet I think some ways are better than others, such as heart ways of love, light, and compassion.
As recently as 2017, this was starkly seen in St. Louis, Missouri, where I live. Peaceful protests were being conducted in response to the murder of a young African American man, Anthony Lamar Smith, by a police officer who was acquitted of the murder. The merits of the case aren’t in my scope here, but the demands and dictates that protestors must march within certain boundaries or be arrested echoes the exact spirit of the times in which I spent my teen years, the era of Dr. King. The rule makers determine the scope and nature of protests, which invalidates the point of the protest.
Whites, and I heard acquaintances and many others make this case, said there is a right way and a wrong way to protest. They wanted to define the right way based on protecting, on a mostly subconscious level, their power position. They believe that oppressed people should think like them and respond like them. Such reasoning nullifies the protest, silences the voices crying for freedom, and kills opportunity for true justice — just as was done in Birmingham: “Do this right, Dr. King, and get a parade permit so we can tell you exactly where you can go. It’s for the common good, the public safety, after all.”
I hear such undertones and know that is the exact intent: to silence and negate the voices calling for equality, liberty, and justice for ALL people. The paradigm is something like this: “We have the right way, the best way, for us, of course. But don’t worry, we will take care of you. We feed the slaves, don’t we? And you Indians, didn’t we give you great places to live and provide subsidies for you?” Yes, and kept as many as possible voiceless, oppressed, and embittered.
We need to come to a table of fellowship and hear and understand the different ways of thinking about freedom, about law enforcement, about justice, about life. These are the exact sorts of issues that Dr. King addresses in his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail” (King).
Black History and White Me! The Heart of Dr. Martin Luther King
The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., contain his essence and energy, energy which allows me to feel that kindred fellowship of the heart.
Let me make this clear now, and I will not mention it again. I am a white male, definitely a privileged category of human being in the United States of America. I do not deserve such privilege — privilege that comes through no merit and is imbued at the expense, harm, or denigration of other cultures or subcultures — nor do I believe anyone deserves such. To this end, I will address Dr. King’s work and sit down at “the table of brotherhood” he refers to in his great “I Have a Dream” speech.
Photo by Micheile Henderson @micheile010 // Visual Stories [nl] on UnsplashI will add that right now I can only encourage you to read Dr. King’s letter. If you do, then you will have a fuller sense of the purpose of Dr. King and deeper insight into the energy that motivated him. I would recommend you read the letter from the following website, because it is a photocopy of the actual one. There’s something about seeing it the way he typed it. I love it: http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf . This letter is as relevant today as in 1963, not to mention that it holds the same transformative possibilities.
In the heading, Dr. King addresses seven white clergymen. I looked up short biographical entries about each of them, but I’m not presenting a history lesson here. What I will say is at one point in my life, my name could have been lumped with theirs. For a couple years, I did serve in a more formal pastoral capacity, and informally for many more. Even then, I cared about justice and inequality, but it was in a narrow, conservative, and constrictive way, a way that benefitted me. I didn’t do this purposefully but rather on a subconscious level that stank of self-righteousness. However, I know this has been part of my evolution in awakening. I am too old to be naive enough to believe I have arrived. Never will. Neither will anyone else.
Having said this, I wonder how many people realize their definition of justice, law, and appropriate civil and social behavior have been dictated to them by the holders of power and assumers of superiority. I have not always considered who sets the definitions.
The clergymen addressed by Dr. King had written a letter published publicly. Why did these seven men write an open letter that urged whites and African Americans in their congregations and the public at large to disassociate themselves from King as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and his efforts in nonviolent, public demonstrations? They had reasons that sounded rational, but they were only rationales of ego: “We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense” (http://www.massresistance.org/docs/gen/09a/mlk_day/statement.html) . Doesn’t that sound solid, right, wise, and the best course of action for all involved? It was pure ego.
Why is that ego? Because their definition of “law and order” was based on rules intended to keep others enslaved, imprisoned, and inconsequential so that the protests, the demonstrations, would not develop into reform or revolution, which may threaten or shake their undisturbed, unmolested positions of superiority. “Our way is the best way. It makes sense when you look at it from our point of view. We don’t want those not like us to have the same privileges and advantages.” Such possible words, even on a subconscious level, represent the underlying ego tones of superiority and desire to isolate and elevate themselves.
In later years, a number of these seven clergymen did, indeed, take bolder stands against racial prejudice and injustice. In fact, Bishop C.C.J. Carpenter would not give his approval to start a new school unless it was integrated, and that was nine years before Birmingham. Why, then, would he sign such a letter as he did in 1963? He still wanted to define, along with the others, their power base and to ensure it would remain intact; they wanted to control by being the benevolent rulers of justice.
They, and many, many people today, do not understand that at a subconscious, ego level they believe that if they dictate the terms of law, order, and justice, then they could judge if others’ behaviors were acceptable or not. This would guarantee their privilege. Their “common sense” was only sense for the white power base, never for minorities, in general.
In any case, Dr. King addresses them as “My dear Fellow Clergymen.” He radiates respect and sincerity in showing he considers them as one with himself. Then, as he launches into the body of his letter, he acknowledges he is under constant criticism every day. Why was that so, and why is that so today for those seeking civil and social justice? People criticize when they feel threatened, and when that’s the case, rational-sounding assaults — think about the arguments a large faction is currently spouting about immigrants — can alleviate their fears by tearing others down.
Dr. King recognizes the fears of these clergymen and attempts to set their fears at ease by using the words from their own letter to analyze the situation in Birmingham; he does so with logic and love. His laser-sharp focus in the face of fear and pressure from those who should have been sympathetic keeps him from distraction or caving in to ego demands.
In fact, he takes the time to show them that he isn’t only going to present his arguments, but he is considering their emotional state: “But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in patient and reasonable terms” (King 1). His loving patience reveals his Heart-energy and drives him on in exposing darkness by shedding light; he shows he values them enough to do so.
Certainly, this principle would be effective in today’s climate in America where questions of equality, justice, and civil rights continue to demonstrate that the underlying ego-drive continues, and the only safeguard to the rights of people to live in heart-truth resides in heart-driven legislation, administration, and justice in all branches of the government. This comes first, before jobs, economy, or any other foolish priorities over the freedom and justice due all.
Awakening to heart and choosing heart as the primary operating system would help to engender and ensure justice, equality, and freedom for all and truly promote the common good. Spiritual awakening — I do not mean religious conversion — opens our eyes to see and protect those natural rights of all humanity, not just United States citizens. Nothing less will do for the future of us all.
Dr. King tells these men from a logic position that he was in Birmingham “…because we were invited here…because I have basic organizational ties here” (King 1, 2). He begins here with the connections of all of us that can neither be denied rationally nor spiritually. Do we see such truth about our relationships to one another and all others? No hope for progress exists without that basic knowledge: Know self and know how that self relates to others.
In this final of three articles, the first two being “Write to Make Readers Drool: Stock the Pantry” and “Tantalize Readers: Create Tasty Work,” the meal is ready to be prepared and eaten.
Having quality ingredients on hand, choosing a recipe, selecting the right items from the writing idea pantry, and spicing it up with true Self makes for something worth savoring. Even if no one else shows up for dinner, the chef gets to enjoy her creation.
Now, the writer can create this metaphorical meal. In these articles, I have not only shared a few useful techniques, but also I have approached writing on a metaphysical level. I have encouraged writing in the energy of an awakened, conscious human, one who comes to know Self. When this happens, the writer desires to infuse the flavor, aroma, and essence of Self throughout the work, either directly or indirectly. This is what marks great work, whether in writing or any other endeavor.
I let that Self go and flow in my work. I might do another quick brainstorm or directed freewrite to discover my exact intention for my “meal.” Is it a snack, an appetizer, an entree, or dessert? I get to decide based on my intuition and the vision I have for the piece.
Some writers outline. In reality, I rarely outline anything because by the time I have gone through my process, the ideas have been forming and I need to get the words recorded. I always produce my drafts on the computer. I may stop and brainstorm or freewrite again if I get stuck, but usually I write, read it aloud, notice chunks that don’t work and that wander. I start cutting word count — as much as possible.
Cutting words makes for a more powerful, focused impact. Then, for these articles, I copy and paste onto the medium.com format and read it aloud again. I cut and revise some more. I could get very technical here; however, I determined from the start of this series I only wished to share a few helpful techniques and processes, but there is more.
First, I check that my tone and voice confirm my purpose, and then I concern myself with the reader. Thereby, I violate many successful authors’ rules about knowing and writing for the reader as a guide to publishing. I know and write myself into the work, first. Ultimately, I must relate myself to the reader. Then, the reader decides if they wish to relate to me.
This leads me to quickly consider the rhetorical tetrahedron — one extra facet to the rhetorical triangle: ethos (elements and force of self), logos (elements and force of logic structure), pathos (elements and force of audience), kairos (elements and force of opportunity, timeliness). Whether a writer acknowledges and uses these consciously, they are all part of writing. Knowing this structure and their dynamics helps to convey personal truth.
I address ethos inherently in the techniques I have shared. The brainstorming and directed freewrites help to establish the author’s credentials, beliefs, and other forces of self. When I write, I want readers to know the true Me I imbue in my work. That provides what readers really want to know: the authenticity and personal investment. I want them to feel my enthusiasm and excitement.
Logos development provides a rationale, a rhetorical structure that is detectable. Any of these aspects of the rhetorical tetrahedron and how they are emphasized depends on the reason I write. I structure the logic development, accordingly. If it isn’t logical, then I shouldn’t publish it. One way I check for the logic is to see if an outline could be easily constructed on the piece and to see how it sounds when I read it aloud.
Next, pathos occupies me. If I am connecting to myself and expressing my true Self and Spirit, then, I will reach an audience who resonates with the message. As that audience manifests, I will think of their needs, listen to their expressions, read their responses and their work. I want to help others discover Self and create purpose and meaning for themselves and help them to matter. Therefore, I consider their interests and expectations in future pieces. I want my work to be useful to those who have chosen to engage with me. Writing is a mutual relationship.
Kairos concerns the timeliness, the opportunity that exists for publishing at a beneficial time. I want my work to display how I relate to the tastes of society, of the world, and of my audience, specifically. This facet of writing is more significant than ever with the explosion of social media platforms; three days old is history in this age. This aspect of the rhetorical elements is the one that de-emphasizes perfection. Get the work out there at the right time.
Am I always successful as a writer? That depends on how one measures success and what facet of the rhetorical triangle is being used for evaluation. The most beneficial measure lies in the expression of Self and Spirit. I know many technical opinions exist about this, and if I were teaching writing to a class in an academic setting, my presentation would be different.
However, I have focused on producing expressions of Self, ones that are tasty to the author, first of all, and that ensures that some others (the audience that becomes a tribe) will enjoy the writing meal that the author prepares.
Write. Enjoy. Share. (Photo by Todd Ruth on Unsplash)I hope these three articles help you create tasty, appealing pieces of writing that both you and your readers enjoy sharing.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!