Being a white girl, living in a white neighborhood and not knowing any people of color, Martin Luther King Jr. was never mentioned in my childhood home. His birthday was never celebrated as a holiday until I was twenty, but I actually never learned anything about him until I was in college and we had peanut soup on the cafeteria menu and someone explained it was in honor of him. By then I was interested in civil rights because I’d begun to have friends of color who explained to me just how hard it is to grow up with racism.
For years, I thought of King as a wonderful man of God who believed in non-violence and had great quotes, but it wasn’t until I discovered the level of narcissistic abuse in my own family that I really began to resonate with King’s sayings. Perhaps only those who have had to fight for their freedom can truly appreciate his statements.
It’s true, he was fighting for civil rights, but Martin Luther King Jr. brings wisdom to the collective human race and he especially speaks to all who have been oppressed. Today, I hold many of his sayings close to my heart because I have found his advice useful for any people who have been mistreated and Adult Children of Narcissists certainly fit into that category. Now, more than ever these words ring true across our nation.
Our lives begin to end
the day we become silent
about things that matter.
Anyone who has been marginalized or abused knows this is only too true. When one of my siblings once told me, “We can never live until our parents are dead,” I cried because I didn’t want them to die, but I wanted to live.
There is something about the human soul that despises being silent about the things that matter and yet many of us were taught we had no voice. No matter what kind of abuse you have suffered, finding your voice is a vital step to your recovery.
King, in few words, has undone a lifetime of silence because he gave us permission to say, It’s not okay for people to marginalized me or lie to me and lie about me. It’s not okay to triangulate behind my back and I don’t have to put up with rude behavior–whether it’s calling up my friends to talk about me or writing rude things on my social media wall.
Now, when we have people who are blatantly abusing others whether in private family gatherings or in the media, it’s time to let our voices be heard.
is a threat to justice everywhere.
King calls us to accountability for all members of the human race. It doesn’t matter if we share the same skin tone, or gender or social status, when any one is marginalized or harmed, we must take it personally, because the threat is real and we are each called to be our neighbor’s keeper.
Of course there is often opposition when we speak up. Our abusers will often say “Not right now–wait until after dinner or the holidays or until we get a better leader,” but King has given us permission to say how we feel and share what we think with no apologies especially when he said:
The time is always right
to do what is right.
King even had some advice that could be used for Flying Monkeys:
He who passively accepts evil
is as much involved in it
as he who helps to perpetrate it.
He who accepts evil
without protesting against it
is really cooperating with it.
The ultimate measure of a man
is not where he stands in moments
of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times
of challenge and controversy.
I find courage in these quotes, because even now there are people bowing to the powers that be–both within the denomination I grew up in and in our nation, but I cannot and will not forsake the principles of Jesus to please any human no matter who they are. Such a reminder is all the more meaningful when I realize King once stood on such principles and paid dearly for them with his own life.
And this brings us to some of the best advice King ever gave:
I have decided to stick with love.
Hate is too great a burden to bear.
I’ve read about survivors who are bitter about their past abuse and are filled with contempt for their abusers. They have trouble forgiving in part because their abusers won’t say sorry, but they continue to carry the burden of their abusers with them everywhere. I can understand how they got there, but King offers us a higher path when he says:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
This gives us permission to let go of the past and lean into the light. Somewhere on this planet there is a survivor playing beautiful music or painting an amazing work of art or writing a fantastic story of hope. Just knowing there are people who have survived much worse than I have endured and they are still carrying on to serve other people gives me hope and joy.
So in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., let us live our lives by speaking of what matters even when it is unpopular. Let us watch out for those who might not look like us, but who in character deserve and resonate with our own cries for freedom and justice for all.
Let us forgive and release those who have meant us harm and let us carry the light of love wherever we go–to work, to school, to church, to the boardroom, to the neighborhood–because we have a choice.
Every man must decide
whether he will walk in the light
of creative altruism or in the
darkness of destructive selfishness.