Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Full Dream - A Revolution of Values

For me, this past week has felt like watching the production of a film or tv show because until now, minority presidents only existed in the realm of imagination. But as reality began to set in about a refreshing new leader in America, I was inspired to read more about the man invoked most often along the path toward the election of our first African American president. I wondered what his spirit would say to President Obama-or more importantly what it would guide we as a people to do to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. So I decided to read more of Dr. King's other speeches, to go beyond the soundbytes. What I discovered was that we do a tremendous disservice to his legacy and ourselves by reducing his dream to a few statements from the end of one of his speeches-as powerful as they are. We need to understand his full dream so that we can work toward actualizing it.

King's activism shifted dramatically during the last years of his life and subsequently suffered vilification from the national media, President Johnson, and even other civil rights leaders for changing direction. The media and much of the population had come to laud his civil rights quest, so what was this vision that caused his descent from grace? Martin Luther King Jr. did not stop with his quest for integration, because he realized that integration into a broken system would not bring equality and justice. In 1967, a year before his tragic death, he delivered a speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" at Riverside Church in New York. In it he said:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. 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.'

The speech is worth reading in its entirety, and although written about American imperialism and militarism at that time, sadly, it remains astonishingly relevant today, as Gaza lies in rubble. Interestingly, this is the same speech from which Obama drew the phrase, "the fierce urgency of now".

A few months later, King delivered the speech “Where do we go from here?” where he asked:

“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…..What I'm saying to you this morning is 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.

Now, with the planet's future at risk and social inequalities increasing at an alarming pace, but also a massive infusion of hope pulsing throughout the world, the time is ripe for a revolution of values. That was his dying dream. I have made an intention to learn more about his full dream and share it with others this year, for that is how we can begin to answer the question-What would Martin Luther King Jr. want us- citizens of the world- to do now?....and then work on making it a reality.

You can read the full text of these speeches here:

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Pen and the Keyboard: Letter to a Friend

Christmas is the time when my life slows down. The cry of "Discounts" and "Sales" is like a momentary wind - If I am not taking cover, I can usually let it blow over me, feeling it but letting it pass. It is during this period that I often have space to focus a little more on my inner life, close friends, and family.

It was during the Christmas period just gone that I was affected by a telephone conversation I had with a friend. I was affected in a quiet way, as though a seed had been planted in consciousness. My friend told me that she had been spending this period writing to friends, in particular those with whom the friendship had got stuck - and she was writing, not to explain that she was right and they were wrong, but to bring more awareness into her relationships. What I found so refreshing was firstly her sincerity in supporting her relationships to grow, and secondly, that rather than sitting in front of a screen tapping an email on a keyboard, she was instead largely writing letters, using a paper and pen.

As she spoke, I was swept into distant memories of what it had felt like to receive a handwritten letter from a close friend - the appreciation of the effort it had taken to write it, the (usually!) more thoughtful content and deeper levels of expression, the pull of aspects of the handwriting and illegible bits that took time to decipher - and although writing emails is 'efficient', the ease and speed with which they are sent means the attention we give to each has lessened. A quality of experience has been eroded - and my friend was demonstrating how it could so easily be revived.

It was about three weeks later, just a few days ago in fact, when I finally took the plunge and wrote a letter to a friend of mine. I wrote to someone I hadn't spoken to for a year, and had not written a letter to for at least ten, but a friend with whom I had spent quite alot of time throughout my teens. We had met at a martial arts club in Coventry and spent many a time sparring and working out together. We also knew one another's families. We were now travelling along quite different paths in life, but shared a bond of common experience.

Just putting pen to paper was an experience, that felt noticeably more expansive than what I usually feel in front of the screen a couple of clicks away from any one of thousands of emails. I felt able to have my friend in consciousness more clearly, and my writing flowed. I said things that I might not have said on email, and knew that he would give more time to take it in. A couple of days later, he called me. He was so pleased to have gotten the letter, that he called as soon as he had read it, and thanked me for writing.

So, here I am, having just had an experience of something that is so out of fashion that it feels like a novelty. I hope to carry on writing the occasional letter - and as an environmentalist whilst I appreciate that writing letters uses paper, and email doesn't, I'm simultaneously aware of a deeper experience, one of wholeness and stillness that I got out of writing a letter and that I found nurturing to the soul - something that is another world to the conveyor belt mode of contemporary life which pulls us to our next material fix.