MLK Day

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If Google and social media didn’t clue you in, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day -a day that is often riddled with postings on social media of quotes made famous by the great orator himself. Many of these posts focus more on abstract themes like love, sacrificing for others, standing up for “things that matter,” faith, and change among others. While I find these quotes to be important, relevant, and inspiring, I am also really inspired and empowered by the quotes where he explicitly calls out and stands against the status quo. With that being said, here are a few MLK Jr. quotes that I find very inspiring:

On Poverty:

“There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’ These are words that must be said.”

Economic Systems:

“…communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”

Society:

“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, 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. … 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.”

I urge you to reflect on these words of King and how he used his life as an agent of change for the greater good.

How Poverty Affects Everyone, Even the Rich

One of the most frustrating things about the issues of poverty and social justice is that often times it feels like no one really cares. Sure many people may hear a statistic or see a picture of a hungry baby and feel sad, but they usually carry on with their day virtually unaffected. Or worse yet, they are confronted by a homeless person on the street and they hand them a couple bucks or some loose change in the hope that that will appease them. In the hope that they will disappear. They refuse to engage them, hear their story, acknowledge that they are human, and they especially try their hardest not to think of them again. They are part of the scenery of a big city, not people, just ugly, moving statues that for some reason terrify those who are more fortunate. Why is this?

I believe there are many reasons why, but one of the main reasons is that it either doesn’t affect them or they refuse to believe that it affects them. Many rational and intelligent people can see that certain issues, if they don’t affect them now, can affect them in the future, making those issues easier to take up. Causes like cancer awareness/research, environmental issues, domestic violence, etc while all noble, are to varying degrees tainted with the threat that it will affect the person intimately at some point in their lives. Rarely do people (in the US especially) see poverty affecting them intimately until it is too late. That is because wealth (or perceived wealth) is the cultural norm and it is thus revered as a fulfillment of our constitutional obligation to the pursuit of happiness.

Poverty is also ignored by the masses because it means that people have to care and get emotionally involved. They know it is easier to keep emotions at a platonic level so that their lives can remain unchallenged and thus unchanged. Change means being uncomfortable, or worse yet, could lead to pain and most people (especially in the West) do everything to avoid discomfort. They keep their eyes down, keep their slippers at the edge of their bed, buy and install electric towel warmers in their bathrooms, start their cars from indoors to warm it up on a snowy day, and most tragically, they have refused to talk about the issues that really matter.

Quickly, however, this obsession with comfort creates a numbing effect. Because people can no longer feel pain or discomfort, they can no longer feel joy and connection. As Brené Brown said in her TED Talk: “You cannot selectively numb emotion.” Furthermore, when people seek to numb their emotions they end up numbing the most human part of themselves. Thus it is imperative to understand that when people refuse to take on the burdens of others and become emotionally invested in their stories, they are not only denying those “others” but also denying their own humanity.

By Darwinist, originally posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinist/23092205/