Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Revolution of Values - Bringing Alive Again Martin Luther King's Radical Dreams

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day here in the U.S. Memories of a remarkable man, and of a movement made up of millions, will be brought to mind. Dreams of a more peaceful, healthy, just nation will be invoked. No doubt recent tragedies and violence will also be invoked. However, the full story of Dr. King's benevolent radicalness will mostly remain untouched. His "dream" of 1963 will be where most will stop, out of fear of upsetting the precarious balance we have in our communities, or out of ignorance of the later more penetrating visions Dr. King had, which ultimately threatened the very power bases of the nation, and probably led to his assassination.

Here is an excerpt from a speech Dr. King gave in 1967:

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. 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 South 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 hand 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 the veins of peoples 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.

It almost brings me to tears. This speech could be given today, almost word for word. And it would still be as piercingly true, radical in vision, and yet inspiring as it probably was to those who heard it over 40 years ago.

I am still learning from this man, and the movement that helped shaped him. It is up to us - the living - to embody more than just the now palatable to most hopes and dreams of that earlier Dr. King. No, it's up to each of us to bring forth "a true revolution of values," through which all our actions are manifested.

This isn't about American greatness, or American dreams - it's really about the world, the present and future of our world. Every time I return to Dr. King's words, I'm reminded of that as much as from any Buddhist sutra.

It's time to be inspired again. To dream fucking huge again. To step into those dreams boldly, fearlessly, dragging all our fears and doubts with us like the homely children that they are. To let go of the need to be right. To be knowing. To be comfortable. To be safe and secure. To give up the ease of drinking from the trough of cynicism or swimming in a swamp of sugary optimism. To forgo all the privatized dreams we have been fed and to sprout the bodhisattva seeds that lie dormant within each of us.

It's time. Even if a mountain of snow covers the way right now, it can be moved, it can be melted. But only together can such a feat be accomplished. There is no liberation to be found in "I." Liberation is a verb, is us dynamically working and loving together. My effort is necessary, but not sufficient. Your effort is necessary, but not sufficient.

May we each be inspired to awaken, to take our particular oar into the water, and help take the boat to the other shore together.

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