Blog Roundup – January
Few people are as canonized as the man we honor every January. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains to this day, almost 45 years after his time on this planet, one of the most radically influential American leaders and certainly the most popular civil rights advocate ever.
And while we remember him almost solely for his role in securing more equal rights for African Americans, we don’t always recall how far his compassion extended, how wide his empathy reached. Though we praise his incredible speeches and his courageous demonstrations, I most admire his great capacity for empathy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it well when he said, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
King was not limited by geography. The Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh reached out to King during the ravaging years of the Vietnam war with a plea:
I am sure that since you have been engaged in one of the hardest struggles for equality and human rights, you are among those who understand fully, and who share with all their hearts, the indescribable suffering of the Vietnamese people … you yourself cannot remain silent.
King did not remain silent; and he took a public stance against the war during his final years. This was one of his most controversial moves, one that was hotly debated and contentious at the time. Still, his powerful resolve to stand in solidarity with Naht Hanh demonstrated how deeply his empathy informed his leadership.
Of course, extraordinary leaders like King don’t come often. That’s why this month’s Interfaith Leadership Institute (the first I’ve ever fully attended) was such an inspiration. As over 125 students, staff, and faculty convened in Atlanta, the city in which King grew up, I truly felt the importance of this mission in my bones. Since we can’t expect another King to simply appear, we have to make our way forward ourselves, one interfaith leader at a time.
That wasn’t all that kept me going; IFYC blogs this month captured that spirit of inspiration. As Avi pointed out, King was as committed to fighting poverty as he was to fighting prejudice. Having never grown up in poverty, King extended his empathy to the poor nonetheless, demonstrating his commitment to fight inequality on more than the civil rights front. Anne Marie captured the boldness of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech and the “fierce urgency of now … [the fact] that tomorrow is today.” And Camille, inspired by King’s famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” exemplified how we must expand our empathy to include all marginalized people.
Just as King believed that the arc of the universe “bends toward justice,” so too do I believe that we bend toward greater empathy, understanding, and inclusion.
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