This is the week we pause to celebrate the life and work of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And rightly so; Dr. King was a man of great conviction, passion, and vision.
I’ve been thinking a lot about his work and about how his story gets told. I want to speak more about that, but first, I have to circle back to the column I wrote before this one. The conversation on friendship.
I’ve never seen such a response to a column before, and I am grateful. I don’t pretend this was a scientific survey, and I’m not preparing my findings for academic publication, but there were some astounding areas of common experience. Here’s what I learned: every example of hurt and loneliness came from being ignored or misunderstood, and the moments of love and connection all stemmed from the simple act of being seen.
I didn’t read any stories of grand gestures, no Oprah-style life-changing events. Instead, I read about the impact of people who had remembered a birthday, sent a letter, made a phone call, hosted a dinner, or even just really listened to a conversation. These were the moments that left indelible marks on the people who received them.
As I was reading through these messages, I happened to also be listening to “RadioLab” on Maine Public. The show was about, roughly, this same thing: Intentionality. Throughout history, scores of religious leaders, civic leaders and philosophers, as well as countless self-help guides and articles on relationships, all speak to mindfulness manifesting reality. Whether is it “be the change” or “I think, therefore I am,” the idea is the same. We create our reality.
What’s interesting to me is that scientists and mathematicians, the proof and logic people, are now in agreement. The current thinking is that everything, from trees to elephants to waterfalls – every single thing in the entire universe – is a product of thought.
I won’t pretend to do the theory justice here. I have only so many words in a column and, if I’m honest, while there were moments of light bulbs going off in my brain as I listened, there were also huge chunks of time where I was utterly lost. It does not come naturally to agree that even the Himalayan mountains are nothing more than thought.
But this is where it comes back around, because here, on the anniversary of Dr. King’s birth, the problems facing our nation, our communities, our relationships are as immovable and formidable as those mountains.
So what if they’re not?
What if, by changing our own thoughts and reactions we change the very nature of existence? What if all those philosophers and spiritual leaders were correct, and the solution to all this awfulness and hate boils down to our own thoughts and responses? Our own everyday experiences, as shared in your emails to me, seem to validate this.
I can’t quite go so far as to suggest that we will solve climate change, genocide and racial injustice just by thinking happy thoughts. That’s one of those spots where the theory loses me a bit. After all, I was trained as an organizer. I believe in action. One of the many, many reasons I look to the life of Dr. King for inspiration is his skill and fortitude at taking real, measurable action in the face of oppression. He preached non-violence, but not passivity.
The mathematical theory of thought-existence does, however, cause me to re-evaluate my own responses in the face of hate and injustice, and to consider anew the true heft of Dr. King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
These words are not merely an inspiring sentiment, they are a call to action. Will you answer?
Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at email@example.com.