In the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. day is commemorated annually on the Third Monday of January. The day celebrates the man, his legacy and his call for a more inclusive worldwide brotherhood of man.
King had wisdom beyond his time. He understood the importance of working together beyond any difference, manifested in his non-violent approach of love and peace. In his final book written in 1968, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, he describes challenges that continue to apply to our world today:
“We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
King’s words, written nearly 50 years ago, continue to speak to our global community. Our failure and inability to address true equality and true “familyhood” in concrete, lived realities has resulted in what we now see in the rise of partisanship, radicalisms, corruption, and crushing poverty across the globe.
Dr. King also anticipated the need to “work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress.” We might consider the implications and opportunities that are made possible by a shared vision and the principles and values that flow from it. Imagine how different our world would look if we invested our tremendous human potential in tackling the challenges of poverty, environmental degradation, education, jobs and a myriad of other obstacles we face.
The year of 2014 was filled with trials and tribulations of every kind. There has been a constant reminder from news around the world emphasizing the absence of clear ethical guidelines to mitigate violence and encourage desperately needed cooperation. The rise of ISIS, the increasing violence in Ukraine, the Ebola crisis across West Africa, and racial tension and protests in the United States are just some of the many dilemmas we face. The challenges the world community is faced with requires more, not less cooperation and collaboration from all the members of the diverse human family.
Each and every culture and faith tradition has sought to encapsulate and pass down universal principles and shared values such as treating others with respect and kindness. Yet many times these have been distorted or misunderstood to be guidelines for only those within the identity lines of one’s own faith. There is an urgent need to return to the touchstones of universal principles and moral guidelines to revolutionize the fate of our common “world house”. In short, we must realize – and soon – that we are so much more than the identifications we have essentially assigned ourselves to.
Dr. King prophetically warned over four decades ago: “Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.”
Recent history has seen examples of inspired leadership in the lives of such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Each found inner resources to bear the weight of institutionalized injustice. Each advanced a moral vision that overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles and then brought reconciliation through forgiveness. Gandhi’s march to the sea, King’s nonviolent civil disobedience, were innovative expressions of the transcendent vision expressed in America’s founding Declaration, that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
As these examples demonstrate, the qualities of moral and innovative leadership are universal and not exclusive to one religion, nation, race or culture. Peace needs such leaders who are driven by a vision that embraces all humanity, and who willingly commit their lives in pursuit of this vision.
Moreover, moral leadership provides the roadmap for nation-building by outlining a vision rooted in universal aspirations, principles and values, while innovative leadership provides the methods through which that vision can be realized, by harnessing man’s natural creative need to advance the human condition. They are like the two sides of one coin.
Let us make this year one where we can see through the lens that Martin Luther King once did – to view the world through a familial vision and developing innovative new pathways to greater peace and prosperity. It is imperative that this vision be first framed by the guiding ideals of a moral and innovative leadership that considers the benefit of the entire human family.
If we are all living in the “world house” together, we have to find a way to work together, and to do it joyfully. Because inside this “world house”, lives a great big family, where are all connected as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers.
If we are to achieve real lasting peace, this vision of “One Family Under God” cannot simply stay as a vision. It must be lived out in the everyday as a living, breathing reality. It takes each and every one of us to believe, understand and practice this mindset of love and kindness to all. With the right kind of role models of moral, innovative leaders, communities, nations and the world can change right before our eyes.
Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.