I grew up during the civil rights movement of the1960s, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a local happening with almost all its impact rippling through the U.S. It resonated elsewhere, but wasn’t yet replicated.
As the world grows smaller and our neighbors feel closer, both the civil and human rights movements of today are active globally. Worldwide, we see brave people speaking out, standing up, and marching to bring awareness to the terrible, but often repairable plights they are facing.
But sadly, modern protests often devolve into violence — the price more severe than physical pain or even death. Violence can disrupt or reverse support for the cause itself. Violence blurs the lens through which we see the problem, and can create so much fear that it can shift the perspective of onlookers from empathy to apathy, or even blame.
It’s not that we can’t comprehend what drives an angry mob; we all understand the outrage. It’s that we know in our hearts that no matter the circumstances, we should never condone or justify the violence because it almost always begets more anger, which begets more outrage, which can beget more violence. Maddening!
When I hear about violence perpetrated in the name of human rights or injustice, I wonder “Where is our Martin Luther King?” Where are the leaders who can help us transcend this frightening problem; who can guide, teach, and preach to today’s masses about the power of nonviolent action? Where are the luminaries who will rally our hearts and minds to take positive action after the news cycle ends?
Dr. King delivered so many powerful words that served to motivate our nation. He taught us that “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
If we don’t have a contemporary MLK figure, who will embody his purpose? Who will teach us Gandhi’s approach to fighting injustice with love, respect, and nonviolent protest? Who will tackle their assignment to educate, awaken and revolutionize the people to fight for humanity? Who will remind us that nonviolence is a choice, and doesn’t mean that you are doing nothing or turning a blind eye? Who will make sure we pass along the wisdom and approach of nonviolence to our children?
Should we look to our political leaders, waiting for them to make it better when many don’t have the courage to even speak words of condemnation over the most heinous acts, let alone inspire others to rise to their very best? Many of our so-called leaders are behaving like playground bullies, framing their own abhorrent deeds as a show of strength. Their “narcissism disguised as altruism” (~Taylor Swift) just serves to divide our human family, and nurtures a culture of hate — all while they seek power and call themselves righteous. I think not.
Should we look to the faith leaders who abuse their power in the name of their lord, allowing their greed and brokenness to fleece their sheep? What about the noble faith leaders who try desperately to break through the cacophony of disharmony in our digital world but are barely detected like a whimper in the wind? Who of them will become the master teacher, the icon, the Dreamer?
There’s a John Mayer song called “Waiting for the World to Change.” It has a great beat, but the lyrics really got under my skin. Mayer declared that his generation didn’t feel like they had the power to fix the problems of the world and they refrained that they were “Waiting on the World to Change” at least 13 times. This song used to annoy me and make me feel a little hopeless.
Waiting for what?
Waiting for who?
The reality is that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” This often quoted (and variously attributed) phrase is profoundly true. We must each look in the mirror and be nonviolent action leaders ourselves. Ground-up solutions have always been more powerful than top-down edicts. That has almost always been the answer: ground-up instead of top-down solutions. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!
We must be the voice, be the power, and teach and embody nonviolence. You, me, we must be the Martin Luther King that we’ve been waiting for. When we take up their mantle, we can stem the rising waters of violence in our nation and in our world.
You will be the peace influencer, the teacher, the leader, and the dreamer.
You will be the living legacy of Martin Luther King.
~ Edwina Cowell, Spiritual Playdate, January 2023