A short while ago I posed a question on this blog: is it enough just to be a good person? It is a question that drifts into my thoughts from time to time. I have also been known to wonder it allowed and discuss (or try to discuss) it with others on occasion. But, it was only this month that I put it up on this space for the first time. Coincidentally – for I did not plan it this way – this month also marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, recognizing someone who went far beyond just being a good person. It being King’s birthday today, I went to reflect on a few of his thoughts and perhaps post a quote here in a small gesture of acknowledgment. One particular phrase of his surfaced and made me think of the question, and made me think about writing more.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
While this quotation can be scrutinized from different angles or called upon to draw credence for different causes, for now, I am going to use it to speculate that King’s response to the question at hand would be “No”. The reasoning is it seems possible to lead a “good” life and yet remain silent. One can recycle, not commit crimes, show kindness to all, respect others, and strive to be fair and honest in everything that directly connects to one’s life. In doing all these things, one would appear to be a good person. This quote suggests this is not enough. While I might be kind, and fair to all those I interact with, King seems to suggest that I am not really living unless I speak up and act about the disrespect and inequities that exist in how others treat one another – something that matters. His thoughts might even be extrapolated to a current issue that seems to matter very much: the environment. While one may recycle and cut down on pollution production, the quote implies it is not enough unless one speaks out, informs others and actively encourages more people to care about the environment.
It is likely that King’s words are specifically directed at those who turn a blind eye to prejudice – one of the greatest evils in the world. In this light, the quote is even stronger evidence that he is calling upon people to do more than just lead a good life. One may be fair and unprejudiced to all those one has direct contact with – but this is not enough. Prejudgement is such a horrible weight on our communities and societies that one must find ways to search it out, destroy it, and actively work to remove it from those who it clings to.
This is not an attempt to answer the question outright. Rather, it is part of a continued attempt to speculate on whether this question even has an answer. Further, it should not be construed as an attempt to specifically define what King was trying to say. His words and actions are best left for each of us to interpret ourselves and from them build our own thoughts. Then – and most importantly – it is up to each of us to find a way to act.