by Hénock Gugsa
I am writing this piece not because it is now February, a month that some person(s) somewhere for some reason designated as Black History Month. What were they thinking? Isn’t history about character?.... How was it shaped? .... What was its content? .... Is character evolutionary or fixed? .... Is it singular and insulated or is it complex and boundless? We are dealing with one common history here ... the history of America and not just blacks ... and the study of history is (and should be) an on-going, dynamic project with no constraints. Further, the study of American history becomes the study of a nation's character. In the case of Dr. King, I am very confident that he was talking not only of individuals, but also of groups, and classes singularly and collectively. In the final analysis, it seems to me that his dream and fervent desire was for the Nation to have a uniform character of equality, decency, fairness, and brotherly love among all human beings.
It is not enough for anybody (even Dr. King) to just say that “All men are created equal” because that could remain that way as lip service for eternity. After-all for centuries, nations, kings, queens, tyrants, and politicians of all sorts have had to hear that concept at some points in their lives ... it might have been in church, or during rebellions, uprisings and or periods of other threats to the communal well-being such as plagues, fires, etc. What is needed is character ... good, decent character. However, character as a national trait finds its roots and essence in the makeup, upbringing, and conduct of the individuals that make up the populace. Thus if a nation is rife with thieves and cutthroats, its "character" naturally needs a lot of work. Such a nation will not be long for this world, as you may easily deduce [hint: Somalia].
Undoubtedly, the content of character that Dr. King was speaking about manifests to society and all its members (not just blacks, and not just whites) certain duties, responsibilities, and obligations. These can all be encapsulated in one word: RESPECT.
First ... is respect of yourself as an individual and members of your family and group as fellow human beings and citizens. Even a child must be respected by a parent if for no other reason but to set an example.
Second ... is respect of everybody outside your group and family. Respect should be the norm for all situations. Respect everybody. Respect even animals, it is a good habit!
Last but not least, respect all fair and just laws and institutions. Start by assuming that they are fair and just, and if you find that they are not ... work peacefully and diligently to change them. Start at the bottom of the heap if you have to, but do not relent. Work to bring about justice, fairness, and equality. In my humble opinion, that is what character is all about. And, by inference, that is also what is meant by content of character!