I heard a wonderful man being interviewed on NPR’s “On Being” yesterday morning. His name is Vincent Harding, and he was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. He talked about how this country is still a “developing nation” when it comes to having a true “democratic encounter across real difference.” He said that, maybe for the first time in its history, America is starting to have a national conversation about how we are going to make democracy work—and what that actually means, on a day-to-day basis, in a world where we have all different kinds of people, with different aims and different cultural backgrounds. To describe the ultimate goal we should all be working toward, he used a term from the Bible, which Martin Luther King used: the “beloved community.”
Mr. Harding stressed how important it is to “love our children into new possibilities,” to teach our children to value things beyond material wealth or fame or prestige. He talked about how important it is for children to grow up feeling that they are part of a larger community, one that that they feel responsible toward. Our children need to know that they are capable of “being the creators of a new possibility for the whole nation.” It is important for all of us to establish the “beloved community” if it is ever going to come about.
In listening to Mr. Harding talk about the concept of a “beloved community,” I couldn’t help but think about our congresspeople fighting over the debt ceiling while there are children going hungry in cities right under their noses; I thought about the tea party loyalists saying they would not raise taxes on the rich, under any circumstances, while our schools cannot pay our teachers a living wage; I thought about Latino teenagers being deported back to their parents’ country of origin, even though they have lived in the United States for as much of their lives as they can remember; and I thought about right-wing Christians who are so far removed from the teachings of Jesus that they discriminate against gays and teach a doctrine that says that people can only get into heaven if they live, act, dress, talk, exactly the way they do.
I think we are pretty far from a beloved community in this country, but I can’t help believing that it is certainly an idea whose time has come.
Mr. Harding gave lots of examples of people across this country who are working in their neighborhood, their city, their region, to improve people’s lives. I’d like to hear from our readers about people they know who are working hard, every day, to try to move us all toward a “beloved community.”
To hear the original interview, go to http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/civility-history-hope/.