Monday, January 20, 2014

Michael Josephson: Can we make Martin Luther King Day meaningful?

  Today we celebrate the legacy of one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many, it will be a time to enjoy a three-day weekend out of town with friends or family. Or perhaps it means an extra day to catch up on work around the house and in the yard.

  There is an uplifting aspect to the day when we think about the difference one man made to awaken the conscious of a nation founded on principles of equality and human rights. Let us never doubt the need for and power of passionate, persistent, idealistic, fearless leadership.

  We can also marvel at the distance we’ve come. It would have truly been unimaginable to Dr. King that in just five decades since the violence of the civil rights movement and the prevalence of blatant and bold defense of lawfully sanctioned segregation and lawlessness, that today, we have an African American President. That’s amazing and whether you like President Obama or not, you should feel some pride that we have come this far.

  On the other hand, I worry that the core deep ugliness and inhumanity of words like hate, prejudice, segregation and racism has been softened by the frequency of their use and the tendency to objectify history. We must not let this happen.

  We must remind ourselves and teach our children that just a short time ago, the kind of rhetoric we attribute to the KKK, Nazis and Skinheads were uttered by prominent politicians and even some courts well into the 1960s. It is not enough that we know the history of lynchings, attack dogs and fire hoses that spawned the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., we must understand it. And it’s not enough to understand what it was really like – we must feel it. Look at the images of what was really going on so you can experience the shame of our history and the pride that, while there are still pernicious remnants of racism that must be removed, at least we’ve made things a lot better.

  You might draw comparisons of Martin Luther King to another inspirational leader, Nelson Mandela, who passed away last month, and who wrote in his autobiography that he was inspired by such great Americans as King. Both of these Nobel Laureates made great strides, and great sacrifices, for the cause of racial equality. And both men have given the world a great example of integrity, holding steadfast to their principles and convictions in the face of tremendous criticism and pressure from all sides.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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