In his powerful Letter from Birmingham City Jail, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded to eight Alabama clergymen who had written to him about the slow pace of change. In his missive, he talked about the appalling silence of the good people. He talked about the need to be creative and seek new ways to get the job done.
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Unfortunately, we see examples of this all too frequently today. Constant political bickering and a lack of civility have stymied efforts to make effective and positive change in Washington. We hear of escalating violence in our country and across the world, and feel a lack of peace in our everyday lives. We all see the need to be more cooperative, to listen more readily, and to seek new solutions for strife and contention.
Too often, however, it is too easy for good people to remain silent. A recent Beacon article about a task force against domestic violence highlighted that painfully well. A survivor shared her story, which included years of physical and emotional abuse and being stalked. Her abuser once damaged her car, forcing her to take the bus. One night, he showed up on the bus and refused to get off without her. Fearing for the safety of other passengers, she left with him.
“He dragged me by the hair in the middle of the city, and nobody helped,” she said. “I was crying and asking for help but people didn’t want to get involved. That’s one of the messages … You need to step in. He drove me around until 2 a.m. smacking me. I thought I was going to die.”
And yet, there is hope. Take, for example, the story of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who has been a tireless – and extremely vocal – proponent of girls’ education. Her advocacy, which includes a blog and establishing a school fund for poor girls, angered the Taliban, who last fall approached her school bus, shot her several times, and pledged to finish the job should she survive. She was recently released from the hospital and is continuing to recuperate in her family’s care in England.
Her bravery sparked a worldwide reaction and has galvanized others to take up her cause. The United Nations declared a day in her honor as people around the globe denounced the Taliban’s actions. She has pledged to continue her efforts.
This weekend, on the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s life’s good deeds, let us all reflect on the need to work closer together, to end bickering, and to work for the common good. Let us pledge to “step in,” to be people who do not stand by silently, but who use our words and actions to speak – loudly – for good.