Since my earliest postings on this blog in 2009, now 200+ essays ago, I have shared a deep inspiration (in good times and bad) that is rooted in the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that Dr. King gave in Stockholm in 1963. While Dr. King’s writings and speeches are broadly inspiring, I continue to find myself coming back to this same document, almost as old as I am, and I continue to find fresh encouragement and inspiration that is very timely and relevant to the challenges we are facing today.
For those of you who have not read his entire speech, click this link (www.nobelprizes.com/nobel/peace/MLK-nobel.html)
and take a few minutes to savor the entire document.
Today I want to focus on a specific paragraph of the speech and reflect on what it says to us today, a few days before the inauguration of President Biden, and Vice President Harris.
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
Over the past few weeks and months, certainly culminating on the attack at the Capitol on January 6th, I have been discouraged by the ““isness” of man’s present nature” that Dr. King refers to in his speech. Are we incapable as a country and a society to reach to “the eternal “oughtness”,” thus being doomed to a “starlight midnight of racism”? These questions and doubts have been persistent for me, and maybe some of you as well. As I write this essay, in the dark quiet of the national holiday honoring Dr. King, I re-read this passage and I am actually energized by another sentence….. “I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events.” While these words were written almost 60 years ago, they are “on point” for all of us today/this week as we end one chapter of our American story and begin another!
Dr. King’s challenge for us is that we aren’t victims of history, we aren’t “mere flotsam and jetsom in the river of life” …we are actually active parts of CREATING the future for all humanity! Our actions matter and if we choose to act in paths that will create a more just, a more truthful, and a more peaceful society then our world will have a more hopeful future! The eternal “oughtness” that he refers to is his challenge for us and our actions to CREATE a better tomorrow for all!
I wish off of you a peaceful and hopeful week as we move into a new chapter for our country, and I for one am working to be hopeful about the path ahead. Take a few minutes this week to read (or re-read) some of Dr. King’s works and find fresh inspiration and challenge for OUR work ahead!