Tomorrow in the U.S., we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I find strength and reassurance in the timeless reminders from Dr. King to undertake the demanding practice of love as a path to healing, justice, and true community.
“Love is the most durable power in the world… love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
In King’s famous sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” he begins by acknowledging how difficult and unpalatable the idea is to love ones enemies. He proceeds to illuminate how and why we might endeavor to do something so radical.
First, he says, we must learn to forgive, being careful to explain that forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning harm:
“Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.”
Forgiveness is a profound intention to release our own heart from the pain of bitterness and resentment. It is not an act of will, but a journey to understanding that opens a doorway to new possibilities.
Second, King counsels us to learn to see the humanity of the person who has caused harm, to recall that “the evil deed… the thing that hurts never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.”
The training of Nonviolent Communication teaches us how to do this. It gives us a way to understand violence as an expression of pain, emerging from suffering, due to the chronic failure to attend to basic of human needs—including primary needs for dignity and mattering.
Third, Dr. King invites us to broaden our understanding of love itself, explaining this kind of love is neither a romantic feeling nor a sentimental ideal, but a universal force of connection, a true kinship that binds the universe together. It is not about “liking” those whose actions or views we abhor, but shifting our attention and orientation to a deeper level, to a “creative, redemptive goodwill for all” that has the power to bring us together by appealing, persistently and unfailingly, to our best nature.
All of this begs the question of why? Why love those with whom we cannot agree, with whom we have such fierce and irreconcilable differences?
The reason is to be found in the reality of the situation: our future is shared, our destiny tied together, and violence will never bring about peace. As he so famously wrote:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I wish you strength and courage during these difficult times.