MLK, peace and redemption

I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’s blog at for quite a while – I am fascinated at the insights he brings to technique and learning. He also shares some cross-disciplinary thoughts there, which broaden my perspectives and help me to look at things from different directions. I’ve just read his post “How to respond to criticism – learning from Dr King” which is dominated by the “Letter from a  Birmingham City Jail”, written by Dr King in response to criticism from Bishops and other church leaders in Alabama over the direct action that He and others were leading in Birmingham.

I love the style that Dr Martin Luther King uses to justify his action and the action of standing up to segregation – and I use the word “Justify” carefully. There are no excuses, just proofs that right is on his side, that his is the way of a follower of Jesus, passionate and logical all at once. There is a great passage where he talks about negative and positive peace and how white moderates seemed unwilling to push for justice:

…who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

That kind of peace transcends the atmosphere of the 1960s and should be the aim of us all. Peace where violence is suppressed is not really peace, just a lull in fighting, a truce. Peace come where there is reconciliation, where the pain of the victim is recognised and dealt with.

I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

There is injustice in the world and yet I am often blind to it and deaf to those groans. What “strong, persistent and determined action” will our generation witness?

A comment left by “Michael” also got me thinking.

It’s too bad the modern school system doesn’t put more emphasis on this concept and instead children are left with the media (movies) to discover how to deal with conflict.

The kind of outcome sought by Dr King was “redemptive” – not in the kind of way we see redemption in the movies, where the bigger gun wins, or the little man beats the unjust system by hitting it hard in a weak spot or through the arduous quest of a hero. It was not the redemption through violence that we see in every blockbuster but of normal people standing up for truth, breaking the violent system from the inside, without becoming the enemy they challenged.

Should we be surprised if our kids fight to solve problems when they lap up the propaganda of a culture built on fighting and the victory that comes from being stronger? Our culture responds to inequality by exercising power, whether political or economic or military. We are oppressors and have no intention of giving up what we see as a right without a fight.

Like thermodynamics, inequality cannot last forever, and we have to decide how it will end. We can pray for leaders like MLK that will stand against injustice armed only with truth. We can recognise that our entire culture promotes inequality through our very richness and see Hollywood propaganda for what it is – supporting the western way of life and violence to sustain it. We can be like the few moderates that fully supported Dr King in standing against injustice and use the exact same arguments of truth, justice and creativity.