I’ve seen a number of articles written about how history and time have oversimplified – and even misrepresented – the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some note that King’s fight to end war and poverty in his latter days – and how that caused him to have detractors- has been left out of the equation. Others say that what is taught to kids is only his “I have a dream” speech, which doesn’t do justice to his writings, teachings and – yes – actions.
But you know kids have an innate wisdom. So when they asked one little girl what questions she would ask of Dr. King, the first question she wrote was “Did you think you were a good person?” I sat and stared at that for a bit and found myself stymied.
Would Dr. King, if asked that when alive, say “I’ve tried to be a good person”? Would he think of his words and how they have given hope to so many – or would he, without the benefit of history, think about his detractors?
None of us have the benefit of history and hindsight to judge our own actions. We can exercise discernment about choices we make and actions we take. Yet sometimes it isn’t easy to think of ourselves as being a good person, particularly when we work toward change. It can be discouraging to have detractors, for example, or to feel like a lightning rod. If you stand up for what you believe, there will inevitably be someone who disagrees with the position you take. Many times it’s just easier to remain quiet and not utter the words that draw attention.
Not all of us will devote our lives to causes like Martin Luther King Jr. I dare say it’s not necessary that we do so. But the world would probably be a better place if more people got off their duffs and went out and did things to change the way things are. In fact, the world would be a better place if more people spoke up from their heart, not worrying as much about detractors.
Perhaps facing the question “Do you think you were a good person?” isn’t an easy thing for anyone. No doubt it begins with the process of even defining what goodness and truth is. I don’t doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a good person. I can’t even imagine the many sacrifices he and his family made over the years, the ultimate one being his life. His legacy will in the light of history be defined and redefined over and over again.
Perhaps those of us who are still alive can best honor him by looking to our own lives and the opportunities we have to be agents of change in the daunting issues that still prevent our society from being fully inclusive, from breaking down the walls and barriers that stand in the way of embracing our brothers and sisters.
Copyright 2008 Ruth Harrigan