This year I extended my annual sampling of Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches and writing to his birthday week. I am taken this year by the “interrelated structure of reality.” As King says,
All life in interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. …Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. (American Dream speech, June 6, 1961)
COVID-19 illustrates the point. The virus moves among us, within families, across continents. To act as though the disease affects only individuals ignores the interrelated structure of reality. We breathe the same air. Individuals get sick and communities suffer. Individual school bus drivers get COVID-19 and kids don’t go to school and parents don’t get to work and shipments don’t go out and hospitals are overrun and health care workers quit and people sick with something else can’t get care. The pandemic shows the single garment of destiny.
There’s the global economy. Or, as King put it in
All [people] are interdependent. Every nation is an heir to a vast treasury of ideas and labor to which both the living and the dead of all nations have contributed. Whether we realize it or not, each of us lives eternally ‘in the red.’ We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women. When we arise in the morning, we go to the bathroom where we reach for a sponge which is provided by a Pacific islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a European. Then at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to more than half the world. (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? 1967, p191)
Beyond where we get our goods, there’s climate change where we are beholden not just to actions we take today but to the effects of pollution accumulated and spread across the globe over decades. There’s the misguided idea that treating people differently based on their race somehow does not have negative impacts for everyone. (See The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee.) Or that allowing only some people to vote does not damage democracy itself.
Every attempt at separateness is folly. Whether big trends like democracy, climate change, and pandemic or more immediate experience like goodwill created by shoveling snow from a neighbor’s walk, trading recipes, or a laugh, there’s no escaping we are in this together.
- Review a recent accomplishment—who helped you?
- What became of something you discarded?
- Identify a decision you thought you were making for yourself that impacted others.
- Where did the ingredients of your most recent meal come from?