The Beloved Community – How Close Are We?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

As any good City Year alum will tell you, one of the central tenets of Martin Luther King’s ideology was the Beloved Community: essentially, an ideal society in which extremes of inequality are eliminated, in which people of all races, creeds, and nationalities are fully integrated, living in unity with one another.

As human beings, we are designed to live co-dependently. We rely on the larger community for survival – each person has a role to play, whether it be growing food, making clothing, or providing services such as education or healthcare.

The problem is, in our modern society, we are bombarded with images and stories of hatred, of ignorance, and just plain criminality. We put up our guards to keep ourselves safe, but in doing so we sacrifice a little bit of faith in humanity. The more we give in to the stories we hear in the media, believing that our world is composed of people who are out to get us in one way or the other, the further we stray from the Beloved Community. How can we live in unity without trust?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we should throw caution to the wind. As the proverb says: “Trust your neighbors but lock your doors.” I just think it’s time to put a little more faith in our community.

While on the road, I am more than ever before at the mercy of strangers. I have relied on strangers for a ride, for a meal, for a place to stay, to loan me a bike in a new city, to give me directions… the list goes on (don’t worry folks – this is all with a healthy amount of caution and care – and I only stay with “strangers” who are friends of friends). The lesson I have learned is that ultimately, the vast majority of people in this world are helpful and friendly, when you let them be.

I remember reading a story recently about a woman in a hurry to get to work, who trusted a homeless man with the keys to her house so he could get something to eat. She realized after the fact that perhaps she should have been more cautious, and began to worry about her home being vandalized or precious items stolen. When she arrived home at the end of the day, however, she found her home in better shape than when she had left it – the man had cleaned her house and left a note of thanks. The note said, roughly, “Thank you for trusting me today. You have no idea how much it means. I was recently released from prison, and have received nothing but hatred and distrust since I got out. The trust you placed in me today has given me a new faith and hope to move forward.” Now, this is a very rough paraphrase, but you get the idea. When we place trust in others, amazing things can happen. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, when you have the whole community together, anything is possible, because our diversity brings all the necessary tools to one place.

So today, try placing a little extra trust in a stranger, make a new friend, do someone a favor…. help to build THE BELOVED COMMUNITY.

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