Yesterday morning, I blogged about Mario Testino, who does nothing but glorify our own cheap desire to be someone other than who we are -- through images that consume us with our own envy, or through fashion's ability to turn the human form into an abstract idealization of itself.
But by midday, gracious fate had intervened with me and I sat in a church in Central Square and heard words that work. Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and Cambridge came together to celebrate. One could not accuse Dr. King of letting his words sit in lassitude.
Some people are undeniably a vessel through which history moves. People of Time and Place, we might call them. In his short 39 years, Dr. King was a profound expositor of the word. He produced and produced and produced while also being a social actor of great personal courage, great strategic vision and mamoth importance.
If one can remove the encrustations of the historic mantle he carries, Dr. King's words still work today, as alive in their meaning in 2013 as they were in 1968. A sampling of what came from his mouth and his pen makes the point per se:
“The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die”
“Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”
"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and postive action.”
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”
“A right delayed is a right denied.”
“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.”
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”
“Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent”
“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.”
“We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.”
“The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice”
“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles;
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
“What affects one in a major way, affects all in a minor way.”
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
“It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.”
“The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
“One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized, cruelly mocked, but it an never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world : My own Government, I can not be Silent.”
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
“Quietly endure, silently suffer and patiently wait.”
“There is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.”
"We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. ”
“Hate destroys the hater...”
“We are faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words ‘Too Late’.”
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”
“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”
“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” (A personal favorite)