Dr. King’s Refusal to Harbor Feelings of Anger and Hatred

Recently, I listened to a Dr. King tribute show on NPR. All the interviewees were people who’d know Dr. King personally. Out of the many inspiring stories they shared, one struck me as particularly relevant to our times.

It was Dr. King’s refusal to harbor feelings of anger and hatred, even when justified, which got my attention. According to a close friend—who had also read through most of Dr. King’s unpublished sermons—this was a reoccurring theme in the reverend’s life. He believed that destructive emotions, however deserving, were a spiritual malady that did more harm to the one harboring them than to those who the emotions were directed at.

Imagine that.

Here was a man who bore the brunt of all the hateful antipathy that was directed at the civil rights movement, a man who had largely made his peace with the fact that his work would likely lead to his premature death (which it did), refusing to participate in the hate and anger that was directed at him, mustering the internal power of love, compassion, and forgiveness in his dealings with adversaries.

I dare to say that meeting hate with love was one of the things that made Dr. King strong, not weak.

Sadly, in today’s world, many wear their raw emotions of hatred, anger, and outrage as a badge of honor and define themselves by who they are against rather than what they are for.

Don’t get me wrong.

They have a right to do that.

However, if we listen to the echo of Dr. King’s life, do we not hear the reverberations of a better approach, a more powerful approach, a more loving approach, a less taxing, enervating and exhausting approach?

Are not love, compassion, and forgiveness stronger allies in our attempts to create a society where all are accepted, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation?

Are we not more likely to win over people by being considerate, generous, and kind, even as we contest practices that are exclusionary, judgmental, and hurtful?

Are we not better off by cultivating love in our hearts than we are when feelings of anger and hatred are allowed to fester?

I am by no means perfect in this regard (from the accounts I heard, neither was Dr. King). I still succumb to feelings of anger and despair under much less external pressure than he ever experienced, and yet, instead of nurturing those feelings, expressing them to the world, allowing them to gain steam in social media feeds across platforms, I try to resolve them internally or with the help of my close friends.

My goal is to build bridges and heal divides. Sometimes that means taking a stance for something, sometimes against, but I never do it in anger, never in hatred, never in emotional turmoil, not if I can help it.

It’s hard… but the alternative is harder.

Icelandic-American author, bridge-builder, interfaith minister, and amateur musician. Learn more at www.gudjonbergmann.com

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