Many of us had the day off on Monday.
MLK Day is a nice little holiday that has absolutely no social obligations attached to it. For those of us who have the day off, it truly is a day off. No family gatherings to attend. No meals to prepare. No gifts to buy.
On the other hand, the day that commemorates one of the greatest Americans in history has been kind of reduced to a throw-away holiday. It’s a day to sleep in and maybe save 20% on a new mattress, which I’m not so sure does justice for a man who gave his life in the name of equality and justice.
Despite all of our talk of “progress,” “acceptance” and “equality” I have become convinced that our culture in many ways has gone backwards, towards division and intolerance. Maybe we need a day like MLK Day more than ever.
These are three things I want to do with my family on a day dedicated to memorializing a great man.
We Are Not the 1%, But We Are Definitely the 5%
I know that a weekday off is a precious opportunity for retailers to lure shoppers with discounts, but really, I think that MLK Day sales are just about scraping the bottom of the capitalism barrel.
While many of us were out shopping for cheap furniture, the rest of us might have seen a report over the weekend that we all collectively scoffed at. The gist of it is that the “1%” own half of the world’s wealth. In fact, it takes fewer billionaires than ever to account for half of the world’s wealth.
“Bah!” we all shouted, “Those bums! We should raise their taxes and arrest them!” We probably spent some time complaining about “economic injustice” and daydreamed about winning the lottery.
I’m willing to bet that when most of us see numbers like that, we bristle, make a mental note to post an angry comment on Facebook, while most reports failed to make note of the other numbers – that of the remaining half of global wealth, the vast majority is owned by you and I – the “five percent.”
Yes, we are the five percent.
If you are a middle class American (and most of us are), then we are the five percent. Sure, we like to say that we are poor, that we have no money. But I see your Instagram feeds. You all have very nice homes. Your kids have a heck of a lot of toys.
So when we talk about economic equality, let’s resist the ever-present urge to compare ourselves to the few who are above us, and start talking to our kids about the billions who are below us. Go sponsor a child through World Help. It’s so much easier to teach our kids to hate the one percent, rather than teach them to love the ninety-five percent.
A Childhood Culture of Hate
I am convinced that children are born with many things already written on their hearts and minds when they are born.
Children are born with a certain amount of intelligence.
Children are born with the capacity to be creative.
Children instinctually bond with their parents.
And while I also believe that children are born into sin and have the capacity to sin, I do not believe that hate is a natural state that children are born into. I don’t believe children are born hating people who are different from them. They have the capacity to hate, but like their capacity for creativity, hate must be nurtured in children.
I do not believe that hate or violence are natural states for our children. I do not believe it is natural for little boys to hate little girls and vice verse. But somehow, our culture works against us in some strangely self-perpetuating cycle that draws children to a state of chaos instead of cooperation.
It’s going to take a lot of work to undo the messages that our children receive every day. But maybe every now and then, we can make a little extra effort to cultivate some empathy in our children.
Yes, Son, You Are Special, But So Is Everyone Else
Finally, I cannot help but wonder what all of this effort to build our children’s self-esteem has done?
While we bemoan the lack of old-fashioned competition in schools, our children are enrolled in more competitive sports leagues than ever before.
Parents today devote more effort to ensuring their kids are “happy” and “well rounded” than any prior generation.
And, sure, I want my child to feel good about himself. But the thing is I am convinced that feeling good about ourselves doesn’t come from within.
It comes from how much we love others.
We might feel good for a while after we win a trophy. But that kind of competitive high is fleeting.
We might feel really great about ourselves because of all of the certificates of achievement we received. But you and I know that adulthood has far fewer “activities” that give that kind of recognition.
The only kind of self-esteem that lasts is the kind that comes from making a positive impact on the world, being useful to others, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
And that’s a lot more valuable than a discounted mattress.