I’ve been reading the great speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m moved by his words and his work. And I’m struck by how relevant his message is in today’s world. The injustice he met with love and “soul force” is still widespread.
It’s worthwhile to read the commandments for volunteers in the nonviolent movement. A few examples: Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory. Walk and talk in the manner of love. Observe with friend or foe the ordinary rules of courtesy. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
While in prison Monday, I shared these commandments and a paragraph from King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” I spoke about freedom, broadly defined. And as part of group check-in, I asked the guys to share what “freedom” means to them. As we went around the circle, there was an outpouring of wisdom:
“I’m more free now, in prison, then I ever was on the streets. Back then, I was caught up in anger, drugs, and bad decisions. Now I know myself better. I’m more kind and compassionate. My heart is free.”
“Freedom means being who I am—my best self. It means I don’t pretend to be someone else. I don’t look externally for cues that I’m accepted. I trust in my heart and mind.”
“I think freedom means letting go of the anger and resentment I feel toward the people who put me in prison. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.”
“It’s easy to act from hate. It’s harder to act from love and forgiveness, especially when you’ve been hurt. But freedom is releasing the anger and judgment. It’s removing the chains from my heart.”
“Freedom comes from choices. I can choose who to befriend. I can choose how to act and speak. My choices give me freedom.”
“I used to judge people quickly, but now I have more compassion and understanding. I didn’t realize this until my time in prison. Compassion gives me freedom.”
There’s much in life that makes me despair—like injustice that continues even after MLK’s good work—and there’s also much that gives me hope. The wisdom and transformation in my prison meditation circle gives me hope. The kindness of strangers gives me hope. The dedicated, important work of kindergarten teachers (all teachers) gives me hope.
As written in the volunteer commandments, hope isn’t found in victory, it’s found in justice and reconciliation; it’s found in ordinary courtesy; it’s found in the presence of love.