"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." – Martin Luther King
Let that sink in for a minute.
Martin Luther King speaks about a space in time when history was literally re-writing itself in the books every day. A time when people’s opinions changed with the weather and social unrest was common. Of course, I was not around at this period of time in the 1960s and I can only refer to what I have read in history books. What truly amazes me is that he believed that the period of time he lived in was filled with an appalling silence from the “good” people that mattered in his time.
For those that remember at least a little history, the 1960s held plenty of social unrest but they sparked the 1970s; a period that embraced social activism and inspired change in our society. In my mind, the “good people” were not only prevalent but very vocal about their views of social justice.
Why does this matter? Flash forward to 2012. Here we are, nearly 8 billion people world-wide; Connected by cell phones and internet. We have every ounce of information at our fingertips at any given time of day or night. We talk to our friends as if they are in the same room even though they might be 2000 miles away. We are a technologically advanced society that communicates daily, hourly, by the second even. Yet, there is something deeply unsatisfactory about how we speak to one another. Empty noise.
When looking at Martin Luther King’s quote, I would say it is even more applicable to our time.
Here we are living in a world deep in turmoil. 11 years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and we are still “at war”. There is poverty, social injustice and moral unrest. Much like everyone else, I have a story about where I was on September 11, 2001. I was a college student at GW University in downtown Washington, DC and I remember people running down the streets of DC after evacuating from the Federal office buildings as the Pentagon had been hit.
But what strikes my heart the most, more than my story of that day is the social impact September 11 had on everyone worldwide. Just like in any human tragedy, we go through stages of grief, anger, sadness and forgiveness. But the decisions we make following this kind of impact are epic. We sent a rocket to Mars, mapped the entire human genome, discovered cures for some types of cancer, and witnessed the invention of the Internet and worldwide cell phone and portable technology implementation. Following September 11, 2001 our commitment to our communities increased. Our interest in social development and community fundraising increased. For many years the priority became helping those less fortunate. For example in October 2008, the International monetary Fund (IMF) announced in an unprecedented move that they “would begin to deploy some of the $200 billion at its disposal to ease global economic issues.” (Tom Bawden, “New IMF Fund for Emerging Markets,” Times Online,October 30, 2008.)
So here we are 11 years later. We must ask ourselves, are we still remembering September 11? If that day in history truly changed us, then the spirit of living for today, helping others and sharing our world should still run strong. When I look back at history I want to be able to refer to Martin Luther King’s quote as applicable to history only. That “appalling silence” is no longer so deafening. We must rise up and remember the impact we can make every day. September 11 will live on in our hearts only if we are not silent.