Monday, January 20, 2014

Everyday Wisdom from MLK: The Door You Pass Through.

Reading a book (Sacred Influence) by Gary Thomas, I recently came across this anecdote, originally told by Henry Belafonte to Bono (extracted from Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas).  Thought this was an appropriate day for sharing it…

When Bobby Kennedy became the US Attorney General, the leaders of the civil rights movement despaired. Bobby was Irish, and, according to one leader at the time, "famously not interested in the civil rights movement. We knew we were in deep trouble: we were crestfallen and in despair talking to Martin [Luther King Junior], moaning and groaning about the turn of events when Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the [complaining]. “Enough of this,” he said. “Is there nobody here who's got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?” We said “Martin, that's what we're telling ya! There is no one. There is nothing good to say about him. The guy's an Irish Catholic conservative [expletive], he's bad news.” Martin Luther King Jr. understood this... He looked at his fellow leaders and said, “Well then, let's call this meeting to a close. We will re-adjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that, my friends, is the door through which our movement will pass.”

King then ended the meeting insisting that there wouldn't be anything more to do until somebody came up with something good to say about Bobby Kennedy. In his view there was no way they could move this man toward their position until they found one redeeming thing to say about him.  That one thing would be the door of redemption the door of influence the door of change.

King’s plan worked. They discovered that Bobby Kennedy was close to his bishop and they worked through this bishop so effectively that, according to the same leader who once could not find a single positive thing to say about Kennedy, "There was no greater friend to the civil rights movement [than Bobby Kennedy],there was no one we owed more of our progress to than that man." As Thomas puts it, “Their greatest nightmare turned into their greatest dream.”

This speaks volumes about the roots of Martin Luther King’s: what faith in his own cause—and in humanity! He was certain that his friends were wrong and that something redeeming could be found in Bobby Kennedy, so much so that the dilemma itself seems laughable to us looking back. In dark moments, it’s helpful to remember: there is always a door.


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