I am tempted to point out Martin Luther King's life and assassination as an example of the relative power and effect of the pen and the sword, of persuasion and force.
Force says, "Stop!" first and foremost; that's all it really can say and it's up to us to control what it stops -- the Deacons for Defense said "Stop!" to acts of oppression, while a jerk with a rifle* said "Stop!" to Dr. King.
Or tried to. --Force works best against force, the sword against another sword; it only stops what's happening at that moment. It dissuades those whose only tool is force.
Words, on the other hand, can say infinitely more than "Stop!" Thanks to the pen and the printing press, to audio recording, film and video, words live on, even after the man who spoke them is gone. You'll see excerpts from Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech all day.
There are any number of ways in which his politics and my own might differ; but on the idea of judging others individually, by "the content of their character," and not their complexion, accent or some other distraction, I agree with Dr. King.
It's a tough standard. Sometimes it's difficult to do. Most people talk about it -- but take the easy way out, whichever way that might be in their circumstances. Try anyway.
(Quite often, around Martin Luther King Day, contrarians will point out the man was no plaster saint. --I've got news for you, not even the plaster saints were saints. George Washington had a terrible temper and could nurse a grudge for years; Jefferson was lousy at business, even the business side of farming. Thomas Paine was so irascible that even his friends found him hard to take! You know what they have in common? They worked past their flaws, to reach for universal and lasting verities, and so did MLK. It's not about hagiography, it's about trying to find the best in ourselves -- and finding heroes who did the same.)
* In keeping with my long-established policy, murderers do not get free publicity on this blog.
4 weeks ago