Today I read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I do not remember ever reading this truly amazing piece of writing. I trust it will not be the last time I read it and reflect on its meaning.
Yes, the letter is long but as Dr. King himself says,
“I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”
Dr. King wrote the letter as a response to white church leaders asking him to stop the protests and to allow time and the courts to solve the issues of inequality. They ask Dr. King, “Why direct action through protest?” With his answer Dr. King mentions a key word that resonates with me, tension. The non-violent direct action creates tension that forces the community to respond.
Indeed “creative tension” as I use the term, is vital in any change effort. Tension needs a resolution. This letter would work well as an example for people studying organizational change as well as social change.
“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
Dr. King finishes the letter with the hope that, “in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
I invite you to read the letter (link here) and reflect on our past, our present and the hope for a not too distant tomorrow.