The societal backdrop for the 2016 Election can be described from many vantage points, and most of these are better explained by other writers. One observation I will declare, however, is that the dialog permeating Decision ’16 is anything but a manifestation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of “The Beloved Community.” We are, for the most part, unloving to each other and certainly not community.
As with all of my blogs and books, this post is intended for anyone who stumbles across it and is interested. However, I’ll admit that I’m especially speaking to a massive demographic with which I’m easily identified: white, privileged citizens of the United States of America. My ask is that we take some time to genuinely study and apply the framework offered by the late Dr. 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’ is a term that 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.”
Dr. 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, MLK Jr. offered six fundamental principles:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
6. 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 non-violent social change”:
1. Information Gathering
3. Personal Commitment
5. Direct Action
Here comes the punch line. These steps, I believe, are concrete behaviors that can lead each of us in a grassroots manner to ultimately transform the fragmented, hurting society we see in 2016 into a “beloved community.” For example, a quick dive into just the first step, “Information Gathering,” reveals things we can do to make a difference.
According to Dr. 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 climate:
“You must do research.” Sadly, most 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 a lot 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 set forth by either Mr. Trump or Secretary Clinton. 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?
Tying this post to my previous writings, I believe that our collective failure to embrace mindfulness practices are partially at the root of our lack of ability, and therefore lack of willingness, to genuinely gather information on crucial issues plaguing our country. We lack the developed skill to carry out Dr. King’s first action step, as we’ve been nurtured to react out of our emotions and be powerfully influenced by the opinions of those around us and the media culture.
Only mindfulness skills such as focusing on our breathing, meditating upon helpful mantras, and becoming fully present with who’s right in front of us can provide the calm and focus needed to push past our powerful emotions, shed light upon our conscious and unconscious biases, and truly seek to understand.
Mindfulness provides not only the motivation but the ability to carry out this first action step. It’s not enough to “be a good person” in our own self-evaluations, or to attend church regularly, give to charity or “have minority friends.” Each of us must truly cultivate a peaceful, learning heart and mind, and the only way to do so is to practice each and every day.
In a July 13, 1966 article in Christian Century Magazine, Dr. King affirmed the ultimate goal inherent in the quest for the “Beloved Community”:
“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.”