That these two events happen within four days of one another should give pause for reflection. It’s an unusual juxtaposition, in so many ways, not the least of which is that Monday will honor a man who is remembered for his tolerance, dignity, and nonviolent methods of civil disobedience. Friday will see a man with a volatile personality who uses bullying tactics and plays people against one another become the president of the United States.
In terms of public persona, King and Trump couldn’t be more different from each other. Yet in an odd way here they are front and center, together, this week. How strange, indeed.
Perhaps those who have angst about the incoming president can take comfort in some of King’s words. King was a man who saw things much more abhorrent than anything Trump has said or done. Bigotry and racism were accepted practices in the 1950s and 1960s. King became the figurehead for the civil rights movement, for equal justice, and for an end to the institutional racism that had been the norm for much of this country for a century, since the end of the Civil War. For that effort, he was vilified by many and eventually assassinated outside a Memphis motel room in 1968.
It is a shame King did not live to see his dream come to reality with the election of Obama 40 years after his death. It’s also a shame King is not alive to add moral perspective to the transition of power about to take place, from Obama to Trump. That presidential transition may certainly be cause for concern.
But King’s words do live on, and some of them still can add perspective today, more than half a century later. Here are some selected quotes:
• “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
• “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
• “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
• “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
• “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
Given the time we live in, it is not enough to call for leaders to engage in civil and reasoned discourse. In so many ways, they can’t or won’t do that. The burden really falls on us. Each and every one of us must realize that the effort starts small, and within ourselves.
We all must find a way, regardless of where on the political continuum we stand, to accept differences in ideas, in language, in skin color, and in experiences. Within those differences we must find common ground when it is there, and be willing to speak out against injustice when the differences are too great and tolerance is stretched to the breaking point.
Or, as King so elegantly said: “With patient and firm determination we will press on until every valley of despair is exalted to new peaks of hope; until every mountain of pride and irrationality is made low by the leveling process of humility and compassion; until the rough places of injustice are transformed into a smooth plane of equality of opportunity; and until the crooked places of prejudice are transformed by the straightening process of bright-eyed wisdom.”
Remembering King’s words and putting them into practice is no doubt the highest tribute one can pay to his memory. Those words may have had no greater meaning they do than right now.