Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~

Each time I read those words, or hear them spoken, they resonate with me. They capture, as well as any words can, the truth about the dangers of injustice, especially the perils that arise when we remain blind to or silent in the face of injustice. If we ignore injustice unless it affects us directly, we are complicit in its ravages; we pave the way for more injustice. Eventually, turning a blind eye to inequity or oppression robs us of the ability to successfully fight when we become targets.

Those words of Martin Luther King, Jr. were spoken during the NAACP prayer breakfast I attended on Saturday. I heard them again from the UUVC minister yesterday. And I read them again this morning, this holiday that recognizes Dr. King’s birthday. I think our world would be a better place if we spoke those words, in place of the Pledge of Allegiance, every time the Pledge is spoken. I would not object, in the least, if school children were asked to recite Dr. King’s insightful words every day before classes began—and then discuss their meaning. By the way, pledging allegiance to a flag, in my opinion, is an example of mindless obedience, in and of itself an affront to the concept of freedom. The addition of “and to the Republic, for which it stands” hardly excuses the forced indoctrination implicit in the recitation. Patriotism is one thing; nationalism is another.

Today (January 16) is the official Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the Monday assigned as the annual placeholder for his actual birth date (January 15). The idea of adjusting holiday dates simply to give us three day weekends is, in my view, tasteless. While I suppose holiday is the right word to celebrate the birthday of figures whose actions transformed society in some way, I detest the use of the word to describe solemn occasions—occasions like Memorial Day. Memorial Day is not a holiday. It should be a day of mourning or reflection about the horrible price of war. Uh, yes, I deviated from my main point. But I was finished. For now.


I am not “fast on my feet.” I wish I were. Unfortunately, I usually have to take time to mull matters over before I feel comfortable making a definitive statement about them. My vague recollections about my performance in classroom debates tells me I always have been slow to think things through. My brain just does not work at the speed of light. And, even after reflecting on issues under discussion, often I discover I have nothing of consequence to add to the conversation. This is not always true, of course. On occasion, I can be quick to react on matters that touch a nerve. Too often, though, reactive responses fail to consider all the relevant factors, making my response seem either irrelevant or unconsidered. During sixty some-odd years of making such mistakes, I have learned to remain silent much of the time. While staying silent while debate rages around me can make me appear stupid, reacting without adequate time to reflect can confirm that the appearance is spot-on. For these reasons and others, I far prefer to write than to speak. I think faster with my fingers than with my tongue.


I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.

~ Khalil Gibran ~


What are people in my sphere really like? What does through their heads? I wish I could engage in long, one-on-one conversations with them, with their guards down and their inhibitions cast aside. Honest, deeply personal and absolutely confidential sharing of wishes and regrets and hopes and fears and a thousand other secrets. The trust inherent in such openness is hard to come by. One would have to be absolutely confident that shared secrets would be locked in two impenetrable vaults. Breaking that confidence would be fatal to the relationship. But having absolute confidence that the vault would remain locked would further cement and deepen the relationship. The problem, of course, is that such absolute trust requires both mutual interest and mutual willingness to invest in the relationship. Rare, indeed.


I wonder what kind of child I was? And what sort of teenager? And I wonder how my mind worked—and what went through it—as a young man? How, I wonder, have I changed over the course of my life? If I could remember more of myself as I evolved, I might better understand who I became—who I am becoming. It is rare, I think, for individuals to recognize that they undergo constant, fundamental, changes for their entire lives. Events affect us; how we perceive the world around us and how our minds process our experiences. And our minds, reacting to the external world, flex and bend in ways we do not recognize until we reflect on who we once were…if we remember enough about that person. Even as I write this morning, I am a little surprised at how different I am today from who I was five years ago. The tightly-wound spring has relaxed quite a lot, And some of the righteous certainty has almost completely dissolved into regret for the failure to realize the fatal errors of my utterly unjustified self-confidence…and the damaging impact that over-confidence had on people around me. Yet on reflection I finally realize much bravado overcompensates for justified self-doubt.


I bought a new computer yesterday. I won’t have it in hand and operating until later this month. I hope my sick and injured laptop survives long enough to see me through the inauguration of new technology. We shall see.


Morning’s early grey light is upon us. I can see the outline of the trees as if the darkness of the night has remained there, but behind them the world is casting night off in favor of a dim but brightening light. What will today hold? I am not sure. Off we go.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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