Anxiety & Optimism
Without asking our permission life has a way of juxtaposing anxiety & optimism. Making a choice between the two now confronts America & the world. In my formulation the election of Donald Trump represents, for many, a rise in their anxiety quotient. Optimism seems embodied, more than ever, in this year’s observation of the Martin Luther King holiday.
Borrowing from Greg Moses’, Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence, we can learn MLK’s process of owning nonviolent direct action as a way of protecting our democratic institutions. Petitions and demonstrations are the public manifestations of nonviolent direct action. More significant and therefore more difficult will be the task of accepting the philosophical & psychic adaptations to make nonviolence one’s life choice.
MLK experienced religious, personal, and intellectual support for his nonviolence. His youth as son of, perhaps, the single most influential black clergyman of the time demonstrated the value of working to change your most vocal/vicious opponent into a possible ally. Growing up in the south, it was necessary for MLK, on a daily basis, to adopt a nonviolent method of maintaining his identity and confidence. His study of systematic theology at Boston University aided him in creating and codifying the ideology of nonviolence. For many civil rights activists nonviolence was a tactic, a strategy. For MLK nonviolence was a life sustaining philosophy. Moses posits that nonviolence is a coherent philosophical component of liberation politics. This writer endorses the difficulty of internalizing nonviolence but also supports its use in this period of political unknowns and anxieties.
Life’s pendulum swings along a continuum of optimism and anxiety. It will be up to progressives to maximize the optimistic arc. MLK often said, “that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” Perhaps, that attitude can provide us with psychic grounding in the days ahead.
Harry Reed is a poet living in Boulder. He is a a former professor of history with 82 years of experience being human.
Here are some of his poems.