Would you throw bouquets for bullies?
Would you offer accolades for abusers?
Would you give kudos to the cruel?
It is a preposterous notion. None of us in our right minds would advocate or practice giving our applause or support to people who harm others. We are, by nature, good-hearted people. We are peace-loving. We are decent, law-abiding citizens.
Yet many of us are stuck in neutral. When times of moral crisis arise, we sit on the sidelines, or perhaps post some comments on social media. We talk about the events in Ferguson, or the grand jury verdict in New York, discussing the merits, causes or consequences of each side of the story. We read about millions of people around the globe who are victimized by sex-trafficking. We see the marginalization of billions of people who have inadequate water supply.
We sit on the sidelines, but we don’t take sides.
Sure, I may not be directly guilty of harming others by racism, or through bullying, or with the abuse of power. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice anywhere.”
Or as Elie Wiesel stated:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Perhaps, John F. Kennedy’s words are the most alarming on the topic of our neutrality:
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
My silence doesn’t help the victims, it only benefits those who abuse their power.
This thought sickens me.
Throwing bouquets of my silence to the bullies. Offering accolades of my ignorance to the abusers. Giving kudos of my inaction to those who are cruel.
So I need to bust out of my own neutral.
I’m not entirely sure what that means. I acknowledge that many instances require a need to get the facts before I jump on bandwagons, or brandish my opinions. In King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”, he promotes the importance of going beyond superficial analysis, and grappling with the causes. I also acknowledge that I am merely one person, with limited influence, and I have roles and responsibilities to my family and my students.
But I can take some simple steps.
Busting Out of Neutral:
1. Prayer for My Eyes & Ears to be Open.
Sadly, I must admit that my own self-absorption sometimes prohibits and desensitizes me from being aware of the injustices that occur around me.
I will look at the relationships circles that I inhabit. I will consider the products I buy and the companies I indirectly endorse through my purchases.
3. Stand Up / Speak Out.
I can stand up for the marginalized. I can rally resources to assist in worthy causes. I can speak out when I hear people being put down, disrespected, or disenfranchised. Every life matters.
4. Proactive Kindness.
I can proactively make the world a better place by practicing kindness. It doesn’t take much to bring a smile, or to let somebody know that they matter. Whether it is in word or deed, I can take a moment to make someone’s day.
More excerpts form Dr. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”:
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.
So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King was not given to the sidelines of neutrality. He rallied citizens of all colors and creeds to act on behalf of justice. My desire is to throw my bouquets, offer my accolades, and give my kudos to the brave men and women who follow this call.