On our road trip earlier this month, one of the highlights was the time we spent on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was born and where he later preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. King is buried here, along with his wife, Coretta Scott King, and the entire street lined with historic homes and buildings is a living museum to the African-American community and its struggle for civil rights.
I don’t usually idolize people but even the most jaded among us would find it hard not to be moved by the life of a visionary. And King was a visionary in the same mold and of a similar stature as Gandhi, the man who comes as close to being an idol for me as any human being possibly can. In fact, as many of you already know, King was greatly inspired in his struggle for civil rights by Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s freedom from British rule.
It is needless to say that Gandhi and King are among the greatest minds and influences of all time. Even politicians who sanction wars can’t help but quote these men. But why is it that as we pay lip service to their vision, we disregard the essence of their message with the attitude that it is too Utopian to be practical?
The home where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born.
Gandhi and King were too smart to ask for Utopia in our flawed world. But, very reasonably I think, they saw non-violence as something all of us, as intelligent human beings capable of independent thought, can understand or at least appreciate. Yet, so many years after they showed us the way, there are a couple of tiny things that keep us from getting it: laziness and an unwillingness to be the change.
It is easy to think that the world is such a horrible place, there is not much we can do about it, so why bother? We pick up the newspaper in the morning, read about wars and famine and tsunamis, throw some money at it if possible, and then go back to our comfortable lives and our families and our jobs because, let’s face it, it’s easy and it’s what we are used to.
But being the change is not difficult: all it takes is courage. Not each one of us has to be a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, nor does each one of us have to go and start a hospital or a school in a remote village in India or Africa, or achieve world peace. (Well, if you can, more power to you!) But for starters, it is enough to just want to infuse non-violence into the way we think and then begin to act on it.
Desi at the memorial
The key is not just to think about violence in the obvious forms of war and bloodshed, but to realize that it is something we often apply, without a second thought, to the most mundane and unnecessary situations: not taking the time to listen to others, honking impatiently at the person in the car ahead of you who won’t go as fast as you want them to, forming a prejudiced opinion of someone based on how they look or talk, or just saying an unkind word in an angry moment to someone else (even if you say sorry afterwards) are all forms of violence that we could well do without.
Best of all, like most good things, non-violence is habit-forming: try it for a while and you will get addicted to it. And who knows, maybe one day you will bring about world peace or start that school for needy kids in Africa (and go vegan, of course :))
The Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue where King was a pastor
One of the reasons many of us don’t want to make the change is because we’re afraid we’ll be the only ones. Unfortunately, in our world, it’s easier — maybe even cooler– to be a jerk than it is to be a saint. But is that a good reason for not even trying to do the right thing? Is it a good enough reason to let our world remain as flawed, as hurt, as violent as it is?
I’ll end with a quote from Gandhi, inscribed under a statue of the Mahatma that stands at the King memorial in Atlanta, because no one could have said it better:
“Nonviolence, to be a potent force, must begin with the mind. Nonviolence of the mere body without the cooperation of the mind is nonviolence of the weak and the cowardly, and has, therefore, no potency. It is a degrading performance. If we bear malice and hatred in our bosoms and pretend not to retaliate, it must recoil upon us and lead to our destruction.”