[The text of this sonnet is printed below.]
“The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” Martin Luther King Jr. from his 1968 essay “A Testament of Hope” as quoted in “How Do We Change America?” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylo in The New Yorker.
Today we could add environmental destruction and its health effects and injustice to King’s list of flaws, as well as the undermining of democracy by rightwing super-wealthy individuals and mega-corporations and the politicians they support who share their autocratic ideology.
Mahatma Gandhi’s work remains the greatest model for “radical reconstruction of society.” Many people know of his marches, fasts and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, but far fewer know that this Obstructive Program was just a small part of his overall movement, and it would not have succeeded without two other far greater programs.
The Constructive Program created the reconstructed society from the bottom up. It set up new educational, economic and health care systems neighborhood by neighborhood and village by village. The symbol of the entire independence movement was not a fist or a fast, it was the spinning wheel that liberated and localized the economy of oppressed and impoverished people.
Constructive Program was not glamorous or covered by the media the way the acts of nonviolent obstruction were, but it was where most of the movement’s energy went.
The third program was arguably even more important and less well known, and that was the Spiritual Program or the Consciousness-Transforming Program. Gandhi said his greatest weapon was silent prayer, and he meant it. Satyagraha was the power he drew on, which he defined as “the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.” (from his Satyagraha in South Africa.) It was a soul-force and it required soul work on the part of every individual.
Gandhi knew that people needed to make a developmental shift of consciousness in order to make a “radical reconstruction of society” as other modern leaders have insisted, including Albert Einstein, Wangari Matthai and Gus Speth to name just three. The founders of the great religions and philosophical traditions recognized the same truth. Indigenous religions have never lost sight of it.
Gandhi and his followers practiced meditation or contemplative prayer morning and evening as a path to the needed new way of seeing the world, and in between those times Gandhi “prayed without ceasing,” reciting a mantra, a name of God.
We need Obstructive, Constructive and Consciousness-shifting Programs today, and we do not have the luxury of time. We have increasingly horrific consequences of social, economic and environmental injustice unfolding around us, so the need for spiritual grounding is even greater to help us draw on the inner wisdom and power we need rather than the fear, rage or despair we naturally feel.
This poem and another, “The Choice,” are about our intentional focus on what is constructive and transformative in the midst of a time that also requires our involvement in obstructive actions. Gandhi’s grandson Arun paraphrased Gandhi’s principle as, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” King put it this way:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King Jr. (1967). Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? p. 67.
Light Muscle Building
Look for the good and evidence of light.
We are, and we become more, what we choose
to seek, to dwell upon, to fill our sight.
We strengthen muscles that we strive to use.
Do not deny that you are weak and flawed,
do not pretend dark night does not exist,
but keep on turning back to good or God.
Beware of strengthening what you resist
or hold too tightly, guilt or hate or rage.
Go practice worry, exercise your fear,
and all the negative that you engage
will make love’s muscles shrink and disappear.
Turn to the light, and love and good will build.
We cannot help but give as we are filled.
copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder