Monday, January 19, 2009

The Content of their Characters

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States and rightfully so. We watched his "I have a dream" speech in its entirety at lunch today and I realized, in explaining his legacy to my children, how many modern-day prophets have paid the ultimate price. King, his mentor of non-violence Mohandas Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, the three men arrayed in spirit at King's speech, were all removed from this Earth by assassins' bullets. All of them were killed for having the courage to say to small minds that people should be free.

Raised on the ideals of the American union, I was a child of King in a literal sense. King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial on the day that I was born. I grew up in prejudiced times but in hearing the conversation that he started, learned to tolerate, then to embrace, cultural differences. There are no racial differences, of course, and have not been since Neanderthals walked Europe alongside Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Such minor differences as skin color are trivial and recent evolutionary adaptations to environmental conditions that we have long worked around with forms of transportation. Culture, not race, is all that separates us.

Culture is fungible. We can change it. We have the ability if we only have the will. Do we want to live together on this increasingly tiny planet, or do we wish to let our subtle differences rip us apart? The time has come to choose. We have to work together to address the problems of our time. Climate change, energy production, medical ethics, poverty and war won't go away unless we will them to. The only way to address any of them is to live together, in peace if not always in harmony. THE challenge of our time is thus laid bare.

Tomorrow Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States. I am pleased that so many feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in the victory of his genes, but hope that they will remember that his victory is not about his genes, his past, or his parents. It is about our future. I, for one, support him not because he is African American, but because I believe him to be the best man for the very difficult job. I attempted to judge him, simply, not on the color of his skin, but on the content of his character.

Obama is following a dangerous path. He will need to ignore his own rock star status, to avoid offers from young women, to avoid the corrupting influences of Washington. He will need to avoid assassins' bullets. If he lives, if he stays sane, if he can just do what he has set out to do, he just might become truly great. I hope he can. I hope we can follow.

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