Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream: that America could rise above the selfish institution of segregation. The dream seemed hopelessly idealistic. Too many people in power benefited from segregation, and were willing to violently defend it.
What if Dr. King were alive today? I am convinced his dream would embrace sustainability, i.e. living in a way that ensures future generations can also live. Everything he stood for supports such a vision. Yet this ‘2008 dream’ seems hopelessly idealistic. Americans — 4% of the world’s population — are too busily consuming 25% of the earth’s resources, while global warming marches forward, essentially unaddressed by our government.
Dr. King’s original dream turned out to be surprisingly realistic. As we all know, segregation ended. Less well known is the cost of realizing Dr. King’s dream, which was sacrifices all around. King’s followers had to sacrifice their safety as they used his disciplined tactics of nonviolence even as they were attacked. Those who benefited from segregation had to sacrifice the privileges they enjoyed at the expense of others, and ought never have had in the first place.
The reality of dreams: no sacrifices, no dream fulfillment.
Willingness to sacrifice is a holy fire, and Dr. King carried that fire. While I don’t know exactly what our nation’s sacrifices for sustainability will look like, I know in my heart that we are capable of tapping into the holy fire that consumes our selfishness in service to the greater good.
Dr. King said he had a dream that one day America’s children could be judged not by the color of their skins but by the content of their characters. I say the updated 2008 dream is that people, and also companies, can be judged — and motivated — not by their wealth but by the well-being they create for future generations.
That the idea of sacrificing any of our material wealth for such a dream currently feels so foreign and unattractive to us is an indication of how far we have to go. But look at the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream of integration to see the joy and justice that sacrifice can yield.