A sage sitting by the city gate watched travelers entering and leaving. They often stopped to ask him about the people in the city. He asked them what they had found so far. Some said, “Oh I am going away from my last home because the people were unkind, unfriendly, and angry.” Others said, “I’m coming from a happy place. It was good to be there, and I was sad to leave.” To both he said, “You describe the people here.” Of course, he meant that they would find the same people that they had been accustomed to finding.
We create our own worlds by finding what we are seeking. The worlds differ because we seek different things. Those who understand beauty recognize it around them, creating more beauty. Wherever they are, they are surrounded by beauty. Article 19 reminds us that Dr. King engaged us in creating the promised land from within. Like finds like.
That article found fault with students who saw thorns, not roses. Finding beauty was a burden of citizenship, a responsibility to turn from the bad and work on the good. Applied to today’s opening story, that perspective makes the new arrivals responsible for finding or creating good neighbors.
On the other hand, we can replace “burden” with “opportunity.” A fresh start in a new neighborhood is an opportunity for positive change. As the sage dispensing advice, I would not consign the faultfinders to repeating their past disappointments. Instead, I would plant in them the expectation of finding better. In article 40, students measure up to teacher expectations. New arrivals expecting friends will find them. What was a “burden” of making new friends becomes the “opportunity” to enjoy new friends.
The ingredients are there. The future develops out of what we make of them. Observing the beauty around us is tantamount to creating it around us.
Applied to the present
After I chose to write about finding beauty, I became conscious of the national holiday honoring Dr. King. Immediately he was the example of my positive outlook. I enjoy using his phrase “promised land.” It expresses the joy I wanted people to feel when they discover the good in a neighborhood. The mountaintop is the vantage point that provides that perspective.
I wish there were a comprehensive free public archive of all his speeches and writings. Without that in my footnotes, I give you my own words from the heart. You have already heard the quotations. I will share the feelings they raise.
Dr. King deliberately started in the places people thought were least likely to respond. He said that if we can make progress there, we have demonstrated what is possible. He moved into a neighborhood and found, inspired, discovered, caused – any good term you want to use – the emergence of new life. He refused to lose hope; he set the pace for our aspirations, always ahead of the present and moving into a brighter future.
He walked the walk. Yes, literally, in marches. They called public attention to the infusion of soul force. The ignorant, fierce opposition never caused him to hate. I remember hearing him say that he had no anger, that he had been hit by so many bottles that he was immune to hatred. His joyful voice was the outpouring of light emanating from his soul.
King’s “soul force” isn’t just non-violent and peaceful– it is also truthful, respectful and kind, in both words and deeds. King believed that difficult and divisive social issues regarding race, class and structural injustice must by necessity be discussed in words of reason and sympathy with opponents. Such “soul force” is not passive or weak. It is active, dramatic, engaged and above all, persistently non-violent.
It is fundamentally important that Dr. King spoke to the promised land within our hearts. We enter it, it enters us–always in togetherness.
I aspire to carrying the light a few steps farther. I cannot do justice in this article to the scope of his teachings. Let it suffice for me to write unceasingly in the tradition of his peace and the dedication of his spirit. When I hear him speak, my heart beats quicker and my eyes tear up.
Photo: Minnesota Historical Society