Strength to Love

In Strength to Love, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concentrates his word skills and expertise in philosophy and theology on a variety of social justice initiatives. Strength to Love received its copyright in 1963 which was the same year as Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year before the 1964 Civil Right’s Act. The book is a collection of some of Dr. King’s sermons that demonstrate his passion for a more loving and peaceful world. Common themes of Dr. King’s life, such as non-violent protest, addressing racism and race prejudice, and opposition to war, are brought to the reader’s attention.

“…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p. 9)

The book opens with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew that emphasizes a need for balance between toughness and gentleness. Dr. King states, “…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” Dr. King encourages is readers to strike a balance between toughness and softness, and the old common sense cliche “Everything in moderation” may also be applicable here. Dr. King goes on to suggest a relationship between “soft-mindedness” and lazy thinking.

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p. 10)

Dr. King was not shy about sharing his conception of truth, but it’s clear that he deliberately prepared and reflected upon the social justice issues he addressed. Dr. King was not a lazy thinker, and in Strength to Love he calls upon the reader/listener to boldly align his or her convictions with his or her actions (King, 1963, p.17-25). Dr. King talks/writes about the need for higher standards of love and human behavior (King, 1963, p.33-34), and he asserts that truth can be pursued by all, not only those in academia or positions of authority (King, 1963, p.45).

In chapter 5, Dr. King encourages the reader to respond to aggression and offenses with peace and forgiveness, and in chapter 6 he continues his admonishment and encouragement of the church. In chapters 7-8, Dr. King opposes materialistic and superficial world views through emphasizing the importance of relationship and faith, and in chapter 9 Dr. King continues his previous themes of faith and hope during times of trial. In chapter 10, Dr. King, no doubt speaking to Cold War tensions, provides cautions on his listeners/readers’ interpretations of communism, and in chapter 11 he notes the sufferings and trials of his work in the Civil Rights Movement. In chapter 12 Dr. King speaks to what may be a common underlying reason for hate and racism – fear, and in chapter 13 Dr. King briefly critiques naturalistic humanism and reasserts Christian themes of redemption.

“I have discovered that the highest good is love” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p.145)

In chapter 13 Dr. King makes another petition to a divided and segregated American church. He encourages unity action concerning the Civil Rights Movement, and he uses the doctrines of the Christian faith to bolster his argument. In the same chapter, Dr. King makes what could be his thesis statement for the book, “I have discovered that the highest good is love” (King, 1963, p.145). In Chapter 15, Dr. King ends the book with some background on his beliefs concerning non-violence.

Strength to Love is an easy read that can be taken up and set down at a whim. The book can be consumed chapter by chapter, in 20-30 minute reading portions, or fairly quickly over the span of a few days or weeks. Because the book is fashioned from some of Dr. King’s sermons, the language is clear and concise. If you are curious about Dr. King, his beliefs, and his life work, Strength to Love, written in the midst of the Civil Rights Era and sandwiched between the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, may be a great place to start.

 

References

King, M. L. (1963). Strength to Love(1st ed.). Glasgow, GB: William Collins.

 

An Update on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

If you’ve visited the “about” page on this website/blog you may have noticed the ambitious vision statement that is somewhat similar to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The vision statement reads, “Worldwide access to quality healthcare, life-long education, and clean energy by 2030”. Like this vision statement, the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are very ambitious. Why?

Well, an old cliche from Norman Vincent Peale might tell the story most succinctly – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Now, for the analytical perfectionist, there’s a lot wrong with this quote, but the point is that when one is endeavoring to achieve big goals, it’s often better to err on the side of too much rather than too little ambition. The future will tell us if the UN’s STG’s will support or undermine this quote.

With a desire to be a part of such an overwhelming set of goals, it’s easy to avoid action. So, if you haven’t already learned about the goals, you can check them out through the link above. If you want to have someone tell you about them and give you some ideas of how you can get involved, Michael Green (Author of Philanthrocapitalism) seems to have a great deal of expertise on the subject. His first TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk on the STG’s can be found here.

If you already know about the STG’s, but haven’t heard Michael Green’s recent update on the subject, check it out here.

“He who would rise in the world should veil his ambitions with the forms of humanity.” – Chinese Proverb

On Inequality

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On Inequality is another short read from Philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt. Frankfurt immediately sets out to critique economic egalitarianism. He points out that the haves are not as much of a concern as the have-not’s (i.e. addressing the problems of society’s poorest is more of a concern than taking away from society’s richest), but he points out that the excesses of society’s richest are distasteful. Frankfurt points out that the inequality of political power that sometimes accompanies extravagant wealth is more of a concern than the wealth itself. Frankfurt advocates for the “doctrine of sufficiency”, emphasizing that although more economic and political equality may have a positive impact in many ways, the notion of societal equality as a fundamentally right moral principle is incorrect.

Frankfurt illuminates the dangers of comparison when he deals a deadly blow to the idea that it is right and fair for everyone to possess equal amounts of materials and goods. As an individual with differing ambitions, obligations, and requirements, it is silly think that one person’s fulfillment comes through having the same amount of wealth as the next person. All of this Frankfurt establishes within the first 12 pages.

Frankfurt then goes on to elaborate on some of the defenses of equality as a fundamentally right moral principle. He makes an argument about distribution of goods and utility thresholds when resources are scarce. His argument compellingly emphasizes that there are situations in which inequality is necessary for survival (i.e. the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people may not always result from equal distribution of goods if there are not enough goods for everyone to subsist on).

Resources are often not globally scarce, even for the large population that this planet supports, but resources are often scarce locally. In these situations populations must make decisions about the distribution of resources, and prioritizing the distribution of resources towards that which will provide the most efficient output seems to be common sense. With the technology and communication that modern society possesses, it is the hope that such local catastrophes may be adverted more and more, but Frankfurt’s point holds true – prioritizing equality in situations of scarcity is unlikely to produce the most utilitarian beneficence.

Besides the practical utility of goods, Frankfurt emphasizes that equality is not a fundamentally right moral principle in part because inequality does not prevent a person from being contented with his or her life (i.e. contentment is not dependent on having as much as the next person). This point again acknowledges the individuality of the person. Individuals do not want or desire the same things, but for some reason people often advocate for attainment of similar or equal resources thinking that will lead to fulfillment in life. It’s refreshing to realize that one person does not need the same things as the next person, and that one person may be significantly more contented having less than a discontented but wealthy neighbor.

Frankfurt does not appear to be defending price gauging, lobbying, or other advantageous uses of resource or wealth distribution. Frankfurt states that rights, respect, consideration, and concern should be afforded to every person. On Inequality may be disturbing to some who misinterpret what Frankfurt is saying, but the book is ultimately a rational examination of the idea that economic equality is intrinsically the moral high ground.

On Inequality, like other small books that Frankfurt has written, provides a critical outlook on a subject that deserves more examination. Frankfurt provides an encouragingly detailed reflection on the concept of equal distribution of resources. His words are not idly written, chosen out of a reflexive feeling of defensiveness, or issued based on an immediate emotional response. Rather, Frankfurt provides a non-polarized assessment of a subject that receives far too many sound-bite responses. That is essentially what make Frankfurt’s books enjoyable to read.

 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

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Written by Trevor Noah, Born a Crime is a memoir of what it was like for Noah to grow up as the son of a white man and a black woman in Apartheid South Africa. From the absence of his biological father to the oppression of his step-father, from the faith of his mother to the skepticism of his own mind, and from the streets of Soweto to the streets of Hillbrow, Born a Crime gives the listener a glance into the societal inequality of Apartheid South Africa and personal struggles of the people who lived through it. Trevor Noah takes the reader on a humorous and educational journey through the times and places of his upbringing.

There are some audio-book performances that immediately distract from the content of the book due to overzealous or unconvincing voice acting, but Born a Crime is not such a book. Noah performs the book well, impersonating influential figures from his childhood and painting pictures well enough to naturally give the listener a good imaginative visual of the scene. While narrative books may naturally be much easier to read/perform than books heavy in dialogue, Trevor Noah’s narrative and dialogue performance is fluid reflecting his skills as a comedian and long-established relationships with the people he impersonates.

One of the people he impersonates is his mother, the overwhelming co-star of the book. Her strength and convictions bleed through the audio, and as the story develops the listener is subjected to more and more astounding moments from this woman’s life. The bond that develops between Noah and his mother speaks to the listener as the listener allows, and culminates in a shockingly amazing story from Patricia Noah’s life. Whether or not the reader identifies more with the faithful and joyful Patricia or the skeptical and comedic Trevor, both equally stubborn, the bond between these two is deep enough to impress on the reader a sense of gratitude and affection for those who he or she holds closest in life. That may be what most makes Born a Crime worth a listen.