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“A Radical Revolution of Values”: Martin Luther King, Jr. calls for a person-centered approach 01/15/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism.
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from LIFE Magazine: March 19, 1965. The caption read "FACE OF PURPOSE. Nobel laureate King stands before a sheriff's deputy as a U.S. marshal reads the order banning the demonstration. King's immediate response: "I have no alternative but to lead the march."

from LIFE Magazine: March 19, 1965. The caption read “FACE OF PURPOSE. Nobel laureate King stands before a sheriff’s deputy as a U.S. marshal reads the order banning the demonstration. King’s immediate response: “I have no alternative but to lead the march.”

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

King said:

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.

For example:

equation

[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:

  1. Self-determination, personal responsibility, empowerment, and self-advocacy are essential parts of recognizing ourselves as human beings, and the human beings around us.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Comments»

1. fred abbe - 01/16/2013

As Yogi Berra once said” it’s dejvu all over again”. I don’t know if in witch hunt times it’s better to march , run, or hide? Great to hear Martiin’s voice again and read his words and your’s.Thanks ALT amazing post.

2. Anonymous - 01/16/2013

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3. R2DTew - 01/16/2013

Your posts, ALT, always seem to plow such rich soil. Who can argue against treating people humanely? Yet so much of human history seems to contain accounts of inhumanity and people’s efforts to free themselves from it. Most everyone still seems to be trying to transcend membership in a condemned subgroup. “I’m better than that. I’m a real human being, alive, aware. How can you not respect me for who I am, for what I am?” Is this not what we each ask for: acknowledgment, dignity, worth? Yet life — being alive — means manifesting into some situation somewhere, sometime, and being faced with transmuting the insecurities, ignorance, and misunderstandings that so often provided that first moment’s basis for our sense of self and place. As a result we are frequently given a foundation built from condemnation. “You aren’t like them. You’re a _____. They’re just … subhuman, inferior, incompetent, damaged…”

If we are fortunate enough to live a life where worth is not entirely dependent upon subordination, we are given an opportunity to see ourselves, and those around us, in a way that grants everyone value. But it seems this is still an uncommon experience, so many suffer. And efforts such as the Buddhist one to remind everyone of the sanctity of all life seem too remote, too abstract and somehow irrelevant. So a sort of militancy arises and forces the complacently conditioned to confront themselves and the reality of differentness.

Race, culture, mental function, gender preference, spiritual understanding — these are the spheres in which both the tension and the vibrancy of human growth are occurring. These efforts all are burdened as well as informed by deep lineages, and histories, and by a topography in which understanding is not uniform or complete. We all live somewhere on this map and nurture a viewpoint that at least in its inception is almost always parochial. What we do with that depends upon our makeup and experience. Some entrench themselves in the security of what’s agreed-upon while others simply cannot bear dismissing all the exceptions. We really do tend to aggregate into groups favoring either uniformity or diversity, and this process now is occurring across the planet as peoples and cultures encounter one another as never before.

Somehow in all of this lives that “radical revolution of values” you (and MLK) speak of. And I think you are right that the concept of recovery offers useful tools in support of the revolution. There remains a deep distrust that embarking on recovery will cost us what little we have gained and the security of what we know, so it is only the most courageous who dare venture out from under the shelter of what they have come to know and understand to stand in the sunlight alive. Yes, it seems easier to live a dead life than risk annihilation on the frontier of being.

It’s worth asking oneself why it is that figures like Martin Luther King are so uplifting. Almost certainly there are figures like MLK in every realm of humanity’s development, and because of them we each take a few steps in a direction we might not otherwise walk. So somehow within us lives someone awe-filled, fully able to resonate with the freshness, the aliveness, of encountering this moment, this present, consciously. But we all, it seems, must suppress that childlike openness to survive in the world as it is. It is no small task to remember and reacquaint oneself with that alive innocence, and to let the endless murmurings of mind and emotions become data rather than our (puppet) masters. And it is not easy to avoid the temptations of imposing an agenda instead of living in the moment — there so much support for the former, so much vulnerability in the latter.

And then there’s the part of life that concerns you most: the so-called “mental health issue”. This basically comes down to how society, how communities, respond to differentness. Some cultures — India comes to mind — treat the mentally different as God-possessed and grant them special dispensation. Of course sometimes this unfolds as excommunication when the community can’t deal with the person’s differentness. Western countries also at one time viewed the mentally different as possessed, but most often as demon-possessed, and treated them accordingly, often harshly. Some might argue Western cultures have not today advanced far beyond those medieval methods. Seems to me we in the West are now exploring new paradigms regarding mental differentness and have started to acknowledge the fact that we are what our brains are doing. This viewpoint so uproots our traditional ways of understanding who we are that it evokes disdainful dismissal even while traditional understandings are dissolving. Verily it seems we are in a sort of transition period, all but cast adrift in a sea of worldviews quite apart from our own.

How do we respond when weapons are seen as both a solution and a cause of violence? How do we respond when beliefs are so incompatible? How do we respond when someone is suffering from the inexplicable? It seems answers are condensing but more slowly than the need to act. We, or at least society, must respond now despite not understanding well. So we can expect considerable clumsiness if not actual harm when a moment forces our hand. And it will be useful to remember that the rationale for what has been done in the past does not justify continuing to do it.

So I would like to respectfully suggest that it is not quite right to say that we are not machines even though we are not machines. It seems more accurate to say that we are each what our own biological “machine” creates continuously for the whole of our lives. But saying this does not compel us to suffer what you call “machine-oriented values”. To the contrary, knowing that we are the dynamic product of a biological machine alerts us to the falsehood that we are mechanisms even while we are dependent upon how our biological mechanism functions. We should not be surprised that such a nuanced viewpoint has yet to penetrate our competitive marketplace; it hardly has a foothold in anyone’s way of understanding who we are.

So MLK’s call for a new world, his acknowledgment and support of that transformation, expresses something living in each of us — hence his special place in history. Just what that looks like depends upon the moment and the place from which it is viewed. We don’t yet have the consensus language about this, but one is growing. Each person’s voice contributes something. How nice that ALT and others are encouraging the conversation.

4. Anonymous - 01/17/2013

This blog post by ALT with the MLK stuff was just awesome.

5. Alice Keys - 01/19/2013

Alt. I’m so glad you stopped by my new blog today. It gave me the link back to yours. MLK is one of my heros. You’ve done a good job here.
Alice

6. Auntiebeeflowerpants - 06/03/2013

Mister King’s words and wisdom have all stood the test of time … I count it as a true blessing to have heard him speak as a young lady . We lost him far too early … Just imaging what world we would be living in if we had his divine leadership till he had reach an natural death by aged… Just love… Love the preceived unlovabled…Be kinder to all … Always fight for good and fairness and protect your’s and all other’s human rights… Be healed and aid in healing…Be the LIGHT that we called to be … Loving Amen in JESUS name … I AM sure our Divine Honourable Elder Mister King would agree with me…

ALT - 06/03/2013

I’m sure he would. I know I do!


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