January 15

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.


4 thoughts on “January 15

  1. Okay, okay, okay. Where on earth do you find time to “speculate” and “scrutinize” when you just got back to work?! In any case, you know I follow your blog and this is a great question – for everyone. I hope that through my teaching and through all our teaching (whether formal or informal) that perhaps we are doing some good and hopefully helping to create others that are willing to “speak up.”

    Peace out.
    Andrea 🙂

  2. In the process of reading, I came across some thoughts by Paulo Freire who talks about suspending one’s own professional assumptions requiring a professional rebirth that he terms the “Easter Experience” (and I’m also borrowing and paraphrasing from a Michael Ames article here too):

    The educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees, in order to be born again as the educator-educatee of the educatees-educators. An educator is a person who has to live in the deep significance of Easter.

    In other words, educators (and this runs the gammet of people who identify their occupation with any sort of education) need to remember to listen to the people they are teaching or talking about and by open to a dialogue about what is being taught. Ames writes nicely that “Freire’s advice serves to remind us that before we become too enamoured by our own expertise we pause to listen to those we wish to assist”.

    There’s lots more that has been and could be said about what it means to be an active local and global citizen. It’s also important to remember that the tools that we use; classrooms, websites, discussion, meditation on books, articles, film are avenues that are not available (or not fully accessible) to a large portion of the population.

    And one last word from Ames, just because, “To be aware is not enough by itself to make one free, self-confident, employable, sober, etc., though it may be a necessary precondition for the struggle to reclaim one’s voice, history, and future”.

  3. Andrea: getting back to work means I have to figure out ways to avoid actually doing work! Besides, who needs sleep?

    Megan: we may have to limit responses from grad students ;-)… just kidding, thanks for your thoughts.

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