A Dangerous Unselfishness
MLK Day 2022
Overnight 8-10 inches of snow fell on the ground here in Upstate New York. I knew I needed to get out and shovel so my neighbors would be able to safely make their way past my house, but I also knew it was Martin Luther King Day and I wanted to talk to you all about him. How was I ever going to find the time for it all?
I decided what I needed to do was put on my headphones and listen to Dr. King’s final speech while shoveling my walk. I Have Been To The Mountaintop was given by Dr. King on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, TN on behalf of striking sanitation workers.
Have you ever really listened to this speech deeply? Allowed yourself to sink into it, ride the lilting cadence of his voice while the affirmations of the assembly roll around you in the background? Damn, if that man couldn’t preach.
You can read the full text of this historic speech at the link above, but you really should take the time to listen. Few have ever moved the world like Dr. King.
I listened to Dr. King’s final speech, as opposed to say, his I Have A Dream speech because it was how he was starting to connect the dots at the end of his life that made him dangerous enough to need to be assassinated.
It was in the final years of his life that Dr. King spoke forcefully about the interlocking nature of racism, poverty, and militarism.
Though Dr. King never, ever lost sight of true freedom for Black Americans as his primary goal, he began to connect that struggle to the struggle of all poor people. He began to preach about how the Civil Rights struggle was intertwined with the struggle of poor people in Vietnam who were being slaughtered by our military.
Dr. King was always dangerous for the way he stood unfailingly for Black people, but it was when he started analyzing the inherent integrity of our entire nation, not just for its racism but for its dependence on the subjugation of all poor people; when he started to talk about the economic power of all poor people to engage in coordinated withdrawal of their economic participation; when he started to talk about militarism and its service to imperialism in order to subjugate poor people the world over, people who all poor people here in the United States should stand in solidarity with.
That was when he became too dangerous to live. When he began to inspire a multiracial coalition of people to collectively afflict the comfortable.
And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.— MLK
I don’t just point to Dr. King because it’s MLK Day, though that’s a fine reason all by itself. I urge you to listen to his speech and think about his wisdom because it has everything to do with what I am trying to do here at Let Your Life Speak.
To be clear and transparent: this is not a self-help blog. I am not here to simply help you to develop yourself for your own satisfaction. I am not here to help you make your life more comfortable.
I am here to urge you to work towards your own integrity so that you may begin to use integrity as the filter for how you see your family, your community, and this country. I am here to move you towards what Dr. King calls in his speech, a “dangerous unselfishness”.
It was Dr. King’s unselfishness, his insistence upon focusing his words and his life on uplifting the plight of all oppressed people, on calling for this country to seek, finally, to fully integrate the promises of our founding documents into the daily lives of all of our citizens, on standing in solidarity with the victims of imperialism around the globe, that made him truly dangerous.
I want you to be dangerous, too.
When I encourage you to become more emotionally intelligent and less emotionally reactive, I am urging you to be dangerous.
When I implore you to find compassion for yourself and others in all of our messy imperfections, I am urging you to be dangerous.
When I challenge you to think deeply about what you believe in and whether or not those beliefs are expressed through your daily life, I am urging you to be dangerous.
When I write about standing up for what you know is right even if there are consequences you must bear, I am urging you to be dangerous.
It is not enough just to work towards your own wholeness, to strive for your own authenticity. We have to all work, in whatever ways suit our gifts, for our communities to have integrity, for our country to have integrity.
In a country with integrity, no one starves or has to sleep outside.
In a country with integrity, no one goes bankrupt because of medical bills.
In a country with integrity, over 2 million people aren’t foundering in jails and prisons.
In a country with integrity, women have full bodily autonomy protected by law.
In a country with integrity, trans people aren’t killed for daring to be themselves.
In a country with integrity, over 850,000 people don’t die of Covid-19 when vaccinations and masks are readily available.
In a country with integrity, more women aren’t killed due to domestic violence since 9/11 than all military personnel in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a country with integrity, the right to vote isn’t restricted to protect the powerful.
In a country with integrity, white supremacists are not allowed to be police officers or school officials, serve in local government or Congress, or make their way to the White House.
In a country with integrity, the government is not allowed to spend more every year on the military than it does on safety net programs and education combined.
Way back at the beginning of this project I told the story of standing in a Quaker museum at seven years old, seeing the scold’s bridles that authorities placed over the heads of Quaker women for daring to preach in public. I knew then that silencing people, especially women, is what the powerful do to protect their power.
What I have learned since then is that our society is insidious in the way it tempts us to put on our own scold’s bridle. To hold our own tongues in order to protect our tiny, tiny piece of the pie. To choose our own comfort over what we know is right.
So, I am standing here, on this virtual street corner every week to call you to take off your bridle. Unbend your back. Stand up and let your life speak truth to power. Be dangerous.