“A Radical Revolution of Values”: Martin Luther King, Jr. calls for a person-centered approach 01/15/2013Posted by ALT in Activism.
Tags: anti-war, civil rights movement, dehumanization, Martin Luther King Jr., peace movement, protest, Vietnam War
On April 4, 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his first public anti-war speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence, at the Riverside Church in New York City before a meeting of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. It was exactly a year to the day before his murder.
Despite harsh criticism (for example, this LIFE magazine article calling his speech “demagogic slander”), King continued to link the struggle for civil rights to broader struggles against injustice, war, poverty, and greed for what remained of his life.
A radical revolution of values
We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
So many of the institutions of daily life in our society demand that human beings behave like machines. Prisons, schools, the mental health system: all reduce human diversity down to mere labels, which are plugged into formulae, which then produce numbers.
[more on the above here]
Even worse, participation in these institutions (particularly compulsory public schooling – get ‘em while they’re young) instills the worst of these machine-oriented values in us: we, the human beings, are taught to treat others like machines. We are taught to bow to bureaucracy, to the insensitivity of forms and formulae, we are taught to look beyond the humanity of people in dire need of assistance and say, “I’m sorry, sir, I know you need help; but you’re just going to have to fill out this form and wait your turn.”
And can these machine-oriented values be compartmentalized? NO.
We turn them on ourselves. We treat others like machines; we treat ourselves as machines.
Do you accept statistical prophesies and prescriptions for your life that carry with them the weight of SCIENCE, against your better judgment, against your lived experience of the world? Do you set aside your basic human compassion and bow to a system that demands machine-like behavior because that’s your job, or because that’s what society demands, or because you believe there is no alternative?
We are NOT machines! We are humans – flesh and blood, soul and spirit. Intuitive agents with a connection, not only to this physical earth, but to a spiritual world, imbued with meaning. And a connection to each other.
How do we stop the spread of toxic dehumanization?
We truly need a “radical revolution of values,” moving us towards a person-centered perspective. I am thinking of the values and ethics articulated by Mary Ellen Copeland to describe her approach to mental health recovery outside of the system. Because all of us are human beings in recovery from dehumanization, I’ve taken them as a starting point for this list of 3 simple steps for reclaiming our human-ness:
- Self-determination, personal responsibility, empowerment, and self-advocacy are essential parts of recognizing ourselves as human beings, and the human beings around us.
- We make no prophecies about other human beings. We simply don’t have the expertise; each human being is the ultimate expert on him or herself. Therefore, if a person says “I can do this, ” or “I dream of doing this” — then they will do it. And we will support them.
- We human beings hold each other in unconditional high regard. We focus on strengths and positives and not on deficits (no matter how these deficits were determined and who determined them). The use of clinical, medical, and diagnostic language, of labels, scientifically-derived statistics, is avoided.
If we approached both ourselves and all other human beings with these values in mind, every day, despite the immense institutional pressure to do otherwise, what would be the result?
One result that King points to is the actual dismantling of dehumanizing institutions. They simply cannot be supported by true person-centered thinking and actions:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring…
In other words, to be truly trauma-informed (dehumanization-informed), we must look not only at the products of dehumanizing institutions, but the institutions themselves!
An incredibly daunting task. Is it possible; can it even be done? Here is how Martin Luther King, Jr. answered that question:
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.