What I Ought to Be

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

I am seeing this quote popping up a lot lately in many different circles.  It is used as a stand alone quote.   I don’t think it works as such.  In the context in which Martin Luther King, Jr. said this, it refers to the power of racism and how that hurts all of us.  Racism keeps the oppressor as well as the oppressed from being their full authentic selves.  And so in this context, until the oppressor begins to see the sin of racism and how it has scarred, wounded, and held back the oppressor from their full potential then the oppressed can never be their full potentials.  That is the context for this quote but rarely is the quote given in context any more.  The hearer needs to be literate to the context of racism to grasp what this quote is about.

As a stand alone quote it is a bit circular and self-defeating. Some one has to start the process of reaching full potential and since the only person I can change is myself, then it must begin with me.  Quoting this statement is just an excuse for not being any different from what I currently am.  It says, if only you were different then I would be different but since you aren’t different, this is who I am.  Don’t blame me for my actions, my personality, my behaviors;  these are your fault for not being at your full potential of who you ought to be.   This quote removes responsibility from me and places my behavior as a result of who you are. 

Martin Luther King did not wait until the oppressor realized his sins and changed his ways before living the life of a free black man.  He began by stating that he was already free of the oppressor’s yolk and living accordingly.  He began the process to being what he ought to be. He did not wait for the voting rights legislation to be passed before encouraging the vote.  No, he began by casting ballots first as a full citizen of this country.  Rosa Parks did not wait for the Montgomery Bus Company to change its seating policy, she began by taking her seat. 

The quote as a stand alone is an excuse for being the same ol same.  There is no empowerment in it.  There is no life in it.  Just excuse after excuse of why things remain the same.  If only such and such were true then life would be better.  If only that person would see what I can do then my life would be better.  If only that group of people would just stop what they are doing then my life would be better. 

I like Gandhi’s quote,  “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It places responsibility back on me.  And if I be the change I wish to see, and you be the change that you wish to see, and we be the change that we wish to see in the world, well low and behold… a whole lot of people begin to be what they ought to be.   Blessings,

MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA

MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 2:07 pm  Comments Off on What I Ought to Be  
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