Pattye Benson

Community Matters


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

Today as we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I am reminded of one aspect of him that is most compelling to me. Throughout his life, Dr. King warned us to refrain from keeping silent – to speak up when we encounter injustice. Dr. King reminded us not to sit on the sidelines of life and watch injustice; rather we need to speak out and consciously push back against it.

All too often, we complain about injustice and prejudice; we watch as the rights of others are trampled or erased but we choose to remain silent. One of Dr. King’s must profound statements, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” Look today at the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal – how many around him at Penn State, ‘knew’ but didn’t speak out. Sometimes we refrain from speaking out because we assume that “speaking out” means protesting with signs or acts of civil disobedience. At Penn State, “speaking out” would have changed history for a number of young boys.

Dr. King was writing of the civil-rights era, when he said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” However, his words are applicable today in our current political environment – where civility has been replaced by anger and hate. Applicable today, where it is possible for the Catholic Church to either ignore or cover up abuse by their priests. Applicable today where a climate exists which tolerates evil by its deafening silence.

In order to change the tone of the rhetoric of hate, we must speak up. We must stand up against injustice and for those who are being treated unjustly. Dr. King urged all of us to feel passionate about freedom and justice – when we feel strongly, we must speak up; not remain silent.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”


Below is my Community Matters post from January 17, 2011, which was written just after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. Hope you will take the time to read it and the 44 comments. Click on the title’s hyperlink to go to the original post with comments.

Martin Luther King . . . His nonviolence preachings as important in 1968 as 2011

Posted on January 17th, 2011 9:41 AM by Pattye Benson

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is something very poignant about honoring the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. today as our country grieves the violent actions of a mentally disturbed young man nine days ago. The reasons behind the gunman’s heinous shooting spree at a ‘Congress on Your Corner” gathering may always remain a mystery. Clearly, the horrific attempt on the life of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the sadness over 6 lives lost and 13 wounded has jarred the American public.

Of course, the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, also stunned the nation he was trying to change for the better. Nonviolence was the central theme of Dr. King’s work to bring civil rights to all Americans. He understood the power of words and employed a wonderful eloquence to teach the importance of peace and nonviolence. Dr. King passionately inspired us through his words and deeds.

In his 1957 essay on the nonviolence movement, Dr. King wrote, “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.” Later in that same piece, Dr. King also explained, “I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence.” These words of Dr. King are as meaningful today as they were sixty-four years ago.

We cannot help but worry about the recent aggressive, violent outburst unleashed in a typically innocent public setting, and what the tragedy says for our country’s future. Whether devoted to the community like Martin Luther King or as an elected official like Gabby Giffords, these leaders put themselves and their values before the world and suffered the consequences. From finger-pointing rants at a lectern to the senseless vicious act last weekend, we have been brutally reminded that our leaders can be focal points for physical attacks by irrational motivations.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday today, we remember Rep. Giffords courageous spirit and similar belief in people. In a 2009 commencement speech at Scripps College in California, her alma mater, Giffords told graduates that she ran for office to“put right things that were wrong and represent those who didn’t have a voice.”

If he were still here with us today, Dr. King would join the nation in this time of grief and sadness. The dream of Martin Luther King was to see every person, regardless of the many barriers humans set up to separate us, to walk hand in hand in harmony and love. Recalling Dr. King’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The memory of King’s courage and commitment to peace should guide our country and national leaders in the coming weeks and months as they address the cause and effect of the senseless violent act in Arizona and the darkness shrouding America. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s memory, as Americans, we cannot afford to simply adjust to violence.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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