Being who I am, it is tempting to begin with something flippant. And likely before I get done with this article I’ll have a joke or two, hopefully the jokes don’t negate the intense respect I do feel for the man. And I like to think he would have laughed at some of the things I have to say.
Today marks two milestone. One is the obvious one from the headline of this article. The second is the hundredth birthday of the late great Betty White, who’s greatest claim to fame was that she was the Golden Girl who was not on the Star Wars Holiday Special, and was the only one to sit in Deadpool’s lap.
But I digress.
Since the second or third I’ve been reading Walden, mostly slipping into my own reveries, but attempting to stay focused on its influence over the good Doctor. As anyone who knows me or reads this blog can tell, my mind is not the most focused laser beam ever.
Ok, ok….back to the serious stuff and the book. I think there are three major points to be learned from a comparison of Martin Luther King Jr. and the works of Thoreau.
- 1) There is power in the Christian principal of humility that is echoed in Thoreau’s ideals of simplicity.
- 2) There is a futility in merely voting and hoping that that alone will improve our world.
- 3) Civil disobedience is more affective for positive change then hopeless apathy or enraged violence.
Christianity has taught the supremacy of the virtue of humility since Christ preached the Beatitudes. And while Martin Luther King Jr. sought justice and to reform a broken society, he was first and foremost a Christian. Humility and love were at the heart of his teaching. And in Walden Thoreau paints in detail the picture of a life spent in simplicity, humbly submitting to live in nature and not strive for a bigger house, a fancier set of clothes, to live within one’s means and not enslave oneself to debts for the sake of some trifles we cannot carry into our next life. “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.”
Martin Luther King’s words were perhaps even more salient:
The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. For more that three centuries American Negroes have been frustrated by day and bewilderment by night by unbearable injustice, and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.
Second, Thoreau was not keen on voting, or at least on voting merely. Now, I know I have to be a bit careful here, as most of my audience will come from a democracy, and if people are not willing to vote in a democracy, more and more power will concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. It is a maxim amongst most of my friends that “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain.”
Thoreau realized that there is a certain vanity to merely voting:
Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.
Frankly, Martin Luther King had to struggle with tools other than mere votes, partly because one of the very injustices he was fighting was for the right of African American’s to vote, period. Nevertheless, he understood the principle too, that merely to vote is inconsequential: “And so we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with enthusiasm.” Martin Luther King Junior.
Last of all, Martin Luther King Junior was strongly influenced by Henry David Thoreau’s protest method of Civil Disobedience. Thoreau literally wrote the book on the subject, and it was taken up by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior to reverse some of the most intrenched abuses of western society.
Two more things and then I bid you adieu. First, another photo of Martin Luther King Junior proving he was truly enlightened.
Last of all, I can’t resist….if Martin Luther King Jr were to step into a transporter with my old collage roommate and they both got mixed up as one superhero….this would be the result:
And finally, what will likely be the best part of the post:
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day everyone.