Wednesday, January 24, 2007

MLK Day Everyday

In a meeting I had about 10 years ago with Professor Mahmoud El-Kati from Macalester College, he said: "Why do we think of just one day as Martin Luther King Day? Why shouldn't we celebrate his ideas and ideals every day of the year?" So, in that spirit, I decided to do this entry on just an ordinary day, midway between the MLK holiday and the beginning of Black History Month.

This year, as last year, I encouraged the staff of Wilder Research to take the time to learn just one new thing - that they did not know before - about Dr. King: about his life, his words of wisdom, or whatever. If we learn just one new thing (not to mention two or three) each year, and if we make the effort to apply what we learn in our personal and professional lives, imagine how substantially we can improve ourselves.

Wilder's Ujima group selected some quotes from Dr. King, for a card memorializing him along with Coretta Scott King. One of these quotes is: "There are two types of laws: there are just laws and there are unjust laws...What is the difference between the two?...An unjust law is a man-made code that is out of harmony with the moral law."

That quote reminds us that we must have a moral basis, a set of values, for our work.

Laws, codes, regulations, ways of doing business or making decisions - they might seem "rational". They might even seem "fair". But does that mean they promote justice? Does that mean that they are "moral" within the larger context of how we feel people should be treated, and of how we feel people should have the opportunity to live?

Dr. King's words and actions encourage us to continually raise questions, to challenge the status quo. He inspires us to search and to wonder how we can do better.

Religious organizations speak to values and offer options. Many advocacy groups strive to raise awareness of justice issues. I like to think that foundations and other philanthropic organizations base their work on values that all of us can choose, or not choose, to adopt. But there is no single script that we can all simply read and follow.

Instead, each and every one of us sits in our own unique position - a product of our history and our culture - and we must each struggle with the question of how to translate values of inclusion, acceptance, and understanding into our actions to achieve progress in our communities and in our world.

Does basing our work on values of inclusion, acceptance, and understanding impair in any way the ability of applied researchers to reach honest, objective conclusions? Absolutely not. In fact, such values enhance honesty and objectivity in our pluralistic society. They enrich our efforts to do work which can elevate human beings and improve communities in nonpartisan, unbiased ways. They make it even more exciting to ask new questions, and obtain new answers, at Wilder Research every day!

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