Monday, January 18, 2010

The Concerns of All Humanity

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was a man of words and his words reveal much that resonates with me. The above quotation is one of my favorites. It expresses what I believe to be at the core of hope for positive change. We are individuals and we are humankind. In the words of John Donne, "the death of any man diminishes me." The Christian Bible states the same concept in terms of being our brother's keeper. Other religions express the same concept of a responsibility to the whole of humanity that transcends individual needs and desires.

Dr. King conditions having a meaningful existence, what he calls "really living," on moving beyond viewing the world only through the lens of individual goals. To really live, we have to move beond a me centered life to a life in which we see ourselves as a part of the whole of humankind. In Tuesdays With Morrie, Morrie conveys a story of two waves rushing towards the shore. One fears crashing against the shoreline and becoming nothing except foam on the sea. The other wave is not afraid, stating, "I'm not just a wave, I'm part of the ocean."

This responsibility to each other is not an easy choice. It means being willing to sacrifice individual wants if such a sacrifice is necessary for the larger good. Many of us resist this path. Much of the opposition against health care reform is couched in terms of individual needs and an attempt to minimize the direness of the need: I don't want to have to pay more taxes; it's not fair that I have to pay for people who won't work to have health care; anybody who wants health care just has to go to an emergency room.

So strong is our love affair with individualism that we continually measure not whether other people need our help but whether they deserve our help. When our elected officials discuss funding for social welfare programs, invariably the discussion turns to the merit of the individuals who need the services of these programs. I confess that I do not understand this obsession with ascertaining if someone is deserving of help prior to providing assistance.

There are those who constantly declare that we are a Christian nation. I think that's a sweeping generalization that fails to take into account the diversity of beliefs in this country. Nonetheless, from what I know of the Bible, at no point does Christ ask of anyone seeking his help, "Do you deserve it?"

Dr. King's words remind us that our obligation to humankind is an absolute, that it is not for us to demand that those in need prove their worth to us in order to merit our concern. On this official celebration of the Dr. King's life and works, I can think of no better way to honor his memory than to embrace our collective responsibility for all of humanity.


Sybil said...

Morning Sheria, as has always been evident we both sing from the same sheet so to speak so I can only congradulate you again on an excellent article.
I remember a friend of mine who would never give to anyone begging in the street as ...well, they would use it on drink/drugs/etc...I pointed out that what they did with what we gave them was up to them, was what we did that mattered..and in the end that is what we will all be judges on not what others do but on what we have done...she now looks on street beggers etc in a different light..
much love sybil

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Lovely post, Sheria. Thank you.

Nance said...

A tribute and an exhortation. Well done!

Check out the Conrad/Gregg Commission bill on
for today and tell us what you think, in light of this post. WWMLKD?

Anonymous said...

I realized in the wee hours this morning(yes, it took almost 45 years) that one of the reasons I habitually point out what others do wrong(in my ignorant estimation), what others are NOT worthy of, is because I wake each morning thinking about what I did wrong yesterday or the day before and about why & how I am not worthy.

Confusing sentence? Yes, I think in confusing sentences and rarely stop to sort out my thoughts effectively.

That said, I still believe sometimes humanity is enhanced by the death of a certain type of individual. I'm not a very quick study.

Dr. King was brilliant, & I suspect you are brilliant also; but it does not take brilliance to recognize the need for love & compassion in this world - it does take a kind, giving heart.

Anonymous said...

I confess that I do not understand this obsession with ascertaining if someone is deserving of help prior to providing assistance.

People constantly trying to ascertain if someone else is deserving...don't truly feel deserving of anything; they want things(tangible, yes, but often the intangible), but they do not feel they deserve anything. It is a twisted thought process.

Lisa :-] said...

And I hope I don't sound like a cranky old relic when I say that what is wrong with THIS generation, with THIS world today, is that it has utterly forsaken its responsibility to humankind. We have taken "me" generation to a whole new level, and it is proving to be our undoing.

warrior scout said...

hmmm. i wonder if the inner struggle between "me" and "us" is transgenerational. i wonder if it's not always been with us. the only things that jumpstart us of "me" is a larger event. pain becomes so great staying the same that we are forced to change.

i look at the "green" movement. it would seem strides are being made to be ecologically conscious, however at closer inspection, a whole lot of it seems more of the same.

we move forward in steps we take. and they are often clunky and clumsy. often we must step backwards in order to step forward more thoughtfully and solidly. i don't think i see this changing...

very lovely quote, btw..

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Being a part of a larger whole is something that has become lost in our society. I hope we can learn this lesson again before it is to late.