Ugh…it’s presidential election season again.
Political party identification matters little to nothing to me at this point. The question for me is, “Are you helping to include or exclude?” And if you don’t care about people being excluded, you need to; because one day, it might be you on the outside looking in.
Modern America is anything but a manifestation of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of “The Beloved Community.”
We are far too often unloving to each other and certainly not community. Authentic, robust community must be intentional to taste its full potential. It’s well worth taking some time to study and apply the framework offered by King, who was strongly influenced by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, and allow it to challenge our comfort and biases.
According to The King Center, “‘The Beloved Community’ was first coined in the early days of the 20th Century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. However, it was King, also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning which has captured the imagination of people of goodwill all over the world.”
King viewed three “triple evils,” identified as poverty, racism, and militarism, as forming a vicious, interrelated cycle that hinders beloved community from coming to fruition. (I’m fairly certain we have generous amounts of all three evils alive and well in our nation.)
As his general framework for gradually defeating these evils, King offered six fundamental principles:
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
- Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
- Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
- Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
- Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
- Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
Taking things closer to the ground, these six principles also inform six steps for peaceful social change:
- Information Gathering
- Personal Commitment
- Direct Action
These steps are powerful and simple in focus; although implementing them in full will require practice and tolerating discomfort.
For example, a quick dive into King’s first step (information gathering) reveals things we can do to make a difference. According to King, “To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. You must investigate and gather all vital information from all sides of the argument or issue so as to increase your understanding of the problem. You must become an expert on your opponent’s position.”
Let’s chunk this down and be honest about how such “information gathering” is not happening in our current political and cultural American landscape:
“You must do research.” Sadly, much of what we tend to believe regarding political and social issues comes from social media, infotainment “journalism,” and the often sloppy opinions of our peers and family. How many of us truly take the time for independent research?
“You must investigate and gather vital information from all sides of the argument.” It’s much easier to “major” in your existing opinion; and, in fact, there’s lots of money to be made in doing so, and it takes less effort and energy to maintain familiar perspectives.
“You must become an expert on your opponent’s position.” Raise your hand if you can truly rattle off five or six actual policy proposals that are being set forth by the current presidential candidates and President Biden as well. Can you speak to the essence and details of the Republican or Democratic platforms, or those of the Libertarian or Green Parties? Can you speak with any understanding to the unique problems minorities face regarding prison sentences, court fines, routine traffic stops, and easy access to the polls?
In a July 13, 1966 article in Christian Century Magazine, King affirmed the ultimate goal inherent in his quest for the “Beloved Community.” He wrote, “I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life. And I think that end of that objective is a truly brotherly society, the creation of the beloved community.”
There’s scant chance of a beloved community coming to fruition unless it’s an intentional community. And an intentional community is comprised of one mindful person at a time, open to new ways of being, thinking, and doing.