I am one of 80,000,000 Millennials in America today. Born and raised in California, I am not a Democrat, nor am I Republican. I am an Independent. I hear it said we have become a tolerant nation, but when I look at our society today I see the exact opposite of that. I see people justifying, in the name of politics, uncivil, deceitful, and rude behavior to anyone in their opposing party. And since most people side with either of the two largest parties, I see the feuding of politics fostering disrespect between our people, which is bleeding into all avenues of our society today.
From TV shows to movies to music to road rage to bullying to the blatantly mean-spirited comments people leave on online articles, disrespect is portrayed and promoted almost everywhere. What concerns me most is how that disrespect seems to have morphed into a spirit of hatred. I see Americans treating each other more as enemies than friends. At the pace we’re going, I am worried what the future will look like for my generation and every generation thereafter.
There have been times when I thought the divisions are too great for anyone to change it. That is, until I was freshly reminded of Martin Luther King Jr. He was a leader who faced the division and hatred of his time and then conquered it and led the way to peace among Americans. Even though I could never compare the horrific injustices of segregation, and all that it entailed, to the problems I see today, I realized that the problems which stem from hate never changes. That’s why King’s message of peace is timeless. Considering the nationwide admiration and respect he holds, I find it unusual that I seldomly see a nationwide imitation of King’s methods for peace. Which leaves me wondering, what did King do right that we aren’t doing right today?
It wasn’t until I read King’s small yet powerful book Strength to Love that I saw the embodiment of who he was when he said, “We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.” Considering how much hate he faced, you have to wonder how he did that? The more I read the more I realized that people have lost sight that King, as a Christian, learned how to love from the way Jesus loved. Perhaps nothing drove King more than Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:44 to “love your enemies.” What set King apart from others is that he had love even for his enemies. It’s that kind of love that is missing from our society today.
King continued that a person who reacts to their enemy with love will impact their society better than a person who reacts to their enemy with revenge, when he said, “In spite of the fact that the law of revenge solves no social problems, men continue to follow its disastrous leading. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path. Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law. He knew that the old eye-for-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love. What a magnificent lesson! Generations will rise and fall; men will continue to worship the god of revenge and bow before the altar of retaliation; but ever and again this noble lesson of Calvary will be a nagging reminder that only goodness can drive out evil and only love can conquer hate.”
So how does this apply to our society today? For some Americans it seems their greatest enemy is Democrats, while for other Americans it’s Republicans. But if we followed in the footsteps of King, we would judge people not by the content of their political affiliation (nor by the color of their skin), but truly by the content of their character.
Which brings me to Ben Carson, a retired Pediatric Neurosurgeon and possible Presidential candidate. Even though he has been in the heat of political controversy lately, if I were to set politics aside and judge Dr. Carson by the content of his character, I would see a good man and a good role model. I would see someone who overcame unbelievable obstacles to become a neurosurgeon and then went on to sacrifice the prime of his life for the greater good of helping others. I would see a man who has lived a life of doing no harm to others. There is much integrity I have found in the character of Dr. Carson.
I bring up Dr. Carson not to talk about politics, but because his situation illustrates the negative effects that political feuding has on our society today. The commotion swirling around Dr. Carson (whether it be hatred or adoration for him) is what reminded me of King and the polarization he faced in his day. I realized there is a cold absence of compassion and forgiveness among our people today when at an apology by Carson for some offensive remarks people said he made there was both a refusal to accept his apology and a disapproval that he apologized.
King was someone who constantly lived in the balance of compassion and forgiveness. People retaliated against him with all the hate they could muster up, but rather than being filled with bitterness and anger, King responded with forgiveness. “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving,” stated King.
Those who think Carson shouldn’t have apologized to the people who said they were offended are sadly lacking compassion for those people and their feelings. And those who won’t look beyond Carson’s mistakes and accept his apology are sorely lacking forgiveness. If we had a genuine combination of compassion and forgiveness for each other, it would be the catapult for respecting each other.
At the end of the day, everyone just wants to be heard and understood, but without respect we lose the desire to understand. With the lack of understanding, respect, compassion, forgiveness, and even joy in our society today, we shouldn’t be surprised that millions suffer from depression and that suicide is at an all time high. From the woes of our own nation to the wider threats of Iran, ISIS, and the frightening talks of nuclear wars, I’m concerned for our future. From my point of view, I think it’s crucial that we set aside our political differences and come together for the well-being of our people.
King believed that change through love wasn’t idealistic, but was realistic: “Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force…is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security.”
There may be walls of hate built up between our people now, but there is hope, because love is always stronger than hate. Real progress will come when we begin helping each other tear down those walls of hate and build up our strength to love.
All MLKJ quotes from “Strength to Love”. Photo by Gage Skidmore/CC Flickr.