When I was growing up, I watched the civil rights movement unfold on the TV. I witnessed common folk, so despised, act with incredible courage and dignity. I heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other movement leaders speak truth to power. They were adamant in refusing to exclude their oppressors from the circle of love. They changed the nation’s sense of what was right.
They taught me that good is more powerful than evil, that love is more powerful than hate, that truth is more powerful than falsity.
Even now, it can be hard to believe. Evil can seem to have all the cards—no rules, no limits, all the creativity, innovation and power, endless energy and endurance. Falsity has the advantages of plausibility, please-ability, or simply being whatever you can invent. The works of hate, being so glaringly visible, obscure the often quieter, less media-visible, works of love.
So many of us are afraid to trust to love, to truth, to goodness. This seems to be especially so in politics and international affairs, where “fighting fire with fire” is not seen as a moral contradiction in terms. But isn’t that the equivalent of endorsing Lenin’s maxim that the ends justify the means?
So this I believe: that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct when he said that the means are the ends unfolding. The means determine the end. I believe that we live the means and determine the ends with every choice and action we take. And that therefore we must choose to act in truth, in love, in goodness.
Does this mean I always win? I’ve learned that winning really means, not coming out ahead of the other guy, but of where I started, and— at its best— letting or helping others come out ahead of where they were, too. That way, everyone— and the world— is better off. Moreover, when my ideas of what is better are informed by standards of goodness, truth, and love—rather than greed, control, fear, or domination—then the whole world benefits. And my means and ends are naturally consistent.
Recently, I met a survivor of the Rwanda genocide, who prevailed psychologically and spiritually through forgiving the perpetrators. Opting for love, she benefited, and circles of transformation have radiated out to many touched by that love. I am blessed have encountered veterans of the US civil rights movement, non-violent activists working (at the time) to end apartheid, or communist regimes in Europe, or other repressive systems; and people who work compassionately with the violently insane or criminal.
Many of them testify to a sacred spark in everyone, an innate capacity to grasp truth, to yearn for the good, to respond to and offer love. The spark plug may be twisted or inverted. Its light may be obscured or down to about 5 watts. But it exists, and—mixing metaphors still more– can be fanned into a greater light. Their experience repeatedly shows that when we respond, not in fear or anger to the darkness, but in love to the light (no matter how faint) we affirm to the other that they are more than their worst and capable of their best. Nothing in this requires love to be naïve, or foolish, or deny difficult truth, but it does necessitate some measure of hope and trust. These ordinary people have shown me that the choice for love, goodness and truth, can be powerful, energetic, creative, innovative, rule-shattering, enduring, and effective.
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