Reflecting on Dr. King’s Legacy

On this day when our nation is celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am reflecting on his legacy and our current challenges. I am wondering how we can prove worthy of the dream. As a champion of justice and peace, Dr. King would clearly be outraged at the state of our world in 2014. He would channel that outrage into effective action and call on all of us to do the same.

Many mainstream media outlets are now reporting on Oxfam’s study showing that 85 individuals own as much wealth as 3.5 billion people worldwide.

Dr. King would remind us in no uncertain terms that this growing inequality is a moral outrage. How can we allow 3.5 billion of our precious brothers and sisters to be treated this way in 2014? He would also remind us that it does not have to be this way. This is a situation created by humans and it can be fixed by us. If we are to make a credible claim to be a humane or caring people, we cannot allow this to continue.

How to positively impact a problem this vast confuses us all. The scope of the issue intimidates even those of us who care deeply and want to help bring about change. We wonder what we can do to make a real difference. We can sometimes fail to act as we get frozen in fear and overwhelmed by the difficult systems change needed to impact something this large.

It may be useful on this holiday for Dr. King to remember that he too was, at times, troubled by doubt and confusion. As a person of faith, he prayed, he pondered, he consulted with people he respected and in the end he found a way to act. He showed us that by taking action we can learn and grow together.

His proud legacy reminds us that when faced with large problems we should each find our small part and move forward as best we can. We will never understand everything and we don’t need to in order to do our part.

Over the years, I have focused my work on creative conflict resolution and peacebuilding. In my new role as the Field Director for the Genuine Progress Project I am learning about the growing international movement to move beyond GDP and to build a New Economy that works for all our people and protects our planet. It is becoming increasingly clear that the way in which we count progress pushes us to make bad policy decisions.

On CNN this weekend Fareed Zakaria had an interesting discussion about where GDP fails us and the push to embrace alternative economic indicators. He was joined by Umair Haque of the Harvard Business Review and author of Betterness: Economics for Humans. and Zachary Karabell author of the soon to be released, The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers that Rule our World.

I am glad to see this set of vital issues getting mainstream media attention. What we measure has an enormous impact on the world we co-create. Bit by bit, people are waking up to the brutal reality of our time. Can we even get our minds around 85 individuals having wealth equal to 3.5 billion? I don’t think I can. But maybe we can find ways to grasp our current reality and together to begin to make changes.

Karabell said, “We are still measuring the world of the 20th century even though we are living in this world of the 21st.”

Umair told us that, “GDP is outliving its usefulness.” And said, “the real question for us is what do we want out of an economy and how do we go about measuring it?”

Personally, I’d like an economy that respects Dr. King’s true legacy. Such an economy would value each and every person equally. Those 85 people are no more worthy of love and compassion or health and happiness than those 3.5 billion. Something has allowed us to go terribly astray. May the spirit of Dr. King and all those who struggle for a better world guide us to embrace a new movement capable of bringing about the changes we so desperately need.