, Newburyport, MA


January 20, 2014

King's message still rings strong

Today, we observe the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1929 and honor the great civil rights leader’s legacy.

Had he not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, King might well still be alive today; he would have turned 85 last Wednesday. And surely, he would have had reason to be proud of the advances we have made in civil rights since the 1960s and the improvement in racial relations inspired by his life and teaching.

Yet, there remain some disturbing trends in our culture today, notably what seems to be a frightening inability to exchange views, give and receive input and discuss issues in a helpful and positive manner — whether we’re talking national debate or local concerns. These are not necessarily divides along racial or ethnic lines. Rather, they reflect an intolerance of opposing ideas.

We see these problems frequently in our nation’s capital, where the two political sides are often polarized against one another, to our detriment. We also see more of it creep into personal lives, as our technology-driven world enhances our ability to communicate, but fails to provide the most vital aspect of communication — human empathy. And so we see people exchange vitriol electronically, in exchanges that probably would not occur if the two sides were able to see one another face to face.

Too often, differences become bogged down in attacks against an opposing side, and fail to generate and engage in the kind of true dialogue that can bring positive change — change that only comes through an acceptance for all and a respect for all ideas.

King’s message was foremost a positive one. He appealed to our better nature, our common humanity and the duty we owed one another. He sought not to tear down one group of people for the benefit of another, but to lift us all up together.

We’re not there yet — there’s still too much discord to say we have a symphony. But at least we’re starting to get in tune. And that’s a thought to ponder on a day when we honor a man who did so much to bring us all together.

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