Republished from an earlier post, Jan. 20, 2015.
Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change.... And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love.... Now we've got to get this thing right. What [we need to realize is] that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.... It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Where do We Go From Here?"
Sometimes I feel discouraged, as the hymn says, and think my life's in vain. There's certainly enough discouraging news. How can I help? What can I do to create more peace, justice, and love in the world?
When I begin to feel helpless, I think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and I understand that everyday I have the opportunity to make a difference--in the way I greet and interact with fellow travelers on this planet, in the work I do, and in the causes in which I invest time and energy. A smile at the right time, a listening ear, focused presence on one who needs it, all of these I can do. The energy emanates outward like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond.
Power and Love
Let me count the ways that Dr. King lived this concept. As he preached in 1967, at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention in Atlanta, Ga.:
- Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.
- Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
- And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted.
- But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.
- When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
- Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
- This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, "We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe, we would overcome."
Read the full text of "Where Do We Go From Here?"
The next time you find yourself choosing between power and love, see it as a false choice. You can be powerful and loving, assertive and understanding. Like courageous leaders everywhere, you can have strong opinions and be open to influence. It's a practice worth cultivating.