21. Whatever Happened to Love in the Public Discourse?

Shame, pity and guilt in public policy

When I am drawn into a discussion about emotions in public policy, I find myself wondering whatever happened to the notion of love in our public discourse. It is Martin Luther King who urges us all to ask the question.

So let’s wrestle with that for a second. Whatever happened to the notion of love in our public discourse? Let me define love. When I say love I mean simply this. Everybody is worthy just because. I don’t care what school you went to. How many degrees you have. What hook up you have, who you know. How much money you make, where you live, what you drive. No. Love means very simply that everybody is worthy just because. That means a life of a kid in Mississippi is as valuable as the life of a kid in Beverly Hills. It means that the life of a child in Palestine has the same worth and value as a kid in Israel. It means that a life of a Hutu is no less valuable than the life of a Tutsi.

If we are to nurture this essential quality of the human species, leadership is essential. But leadership is not about the title. It is not about the pay check. It is not about the accolade. Leadership is about loving and serving people. You cannot lead folk if you don’t love them, you cannot save folk if you don’t serve them.

If we are to nurture this essential quality of the human species, leadership is essential.

So all that matters is these two things. One, what is the depth of your love for everyday people. And what then is the quality of your service to them.

If you would be King-like, if you would do your small part to keep the legacy of Martin Luther King safe in the world, you will want to reflect on those two questions, your depth of love for people, and the quality of your service to them.

“Cowardice asks is it safe, expediency asks is it politic, vanity asks is it popular, but conscience asks is it right. And every now and then we must take positions that are neither safe nor politic, comfortable nor convenient. We take these positions because our conscience tells us that it is right.”

Tavis Smiley is a broadcaster and writer in the United States. Among his many works is a Death of a King: The Real Story of Martin Luther King’s Final Year, available in all good bookshops. This piece is drawn from a longer presentation at the National Center for Children in Poverty

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