Compassion, the Prize and the Price

With Martin Luther King Day upon us, this piece on his college room-mate’s study of his non-violent methods of social change will be something to uplift your spirits. Enjoy.

I really like Chuck Willie.  You would too.

Chuck and Martin before they became "Dr. Willie" and "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Chuck was Martin Luther King’s classmate at Morehouse College.  You know what became of Dr. King.  Dr. Willie has his own  illustrious record.

I met Chuck when he was the Chair of the Board of the Judge Baker Children’s Center at Harvard University.  I was on the faculty at Judge Baker at the time.  A more approachable man than Chuck is hard to imagine.  With his many remarkable achievements, his combination of humble affability and excellence in achievement make him a gem of a man whom I highly value and simply love to talk to.

Chuck participated in the interfaculty working group I put together at Harvard after 9/11 on “Resilient Responses to Social Crisis.”  We were looking at what the absolute best responses might be to that horrible event and ones like it.  We were particularly interested in how to do this on a large scale.  That’s where Chuck has special insights.

One of his many areas of expertise is how to create effective grassroots social action.   Like Dr. King, this was the burning question before all Morehouse students of his generation and even now.  Chuck came to study the methods of his former classmate, Dr. King, and offered our group his insights.

It was after one of our working group meetings that Chuck came up to me to give me a synopsis of Dr. King’s methods.  He told me how the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 was a perfect example of how to mobilize a group of people to be their best. (Check out this tune by the Neville Brothers in honor of Rosa Parks.)

“Every Monday night, people from every part of Montgomery would come together at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King was pastor.”  Chuck said.  “They would basically be involved in two actitivites.  On the one hand, they would listen to sermons and speeches about the “Beloved Community.”  They would talk among themselves, read the Bible, study from other sources, all of this to get a clear idea of what “The Prize” was they were after.”

“You see, they needed to have a crystal clear vision of what it was they were being asked to do.  In this case, it wasn’t only their own liberation from the oppression of Segregation and Jim Crow.  They wanted much more than that.  They were going to liberate their oppressors from the shackles of their prejudice and hatred.  In that way everyone could be free.  Their goal was the ‘Beloved Community.’”

“So, on the one hand, they needed to have this goal, this Prize, clearly fixed in their minds with all of its benefits and moral value.”

“On the other hand, in order to make a mature ethical choice, they had to understand in the depths of their souls what the cost would be, what “The Price” was to pay for that “Prize.”

Their families could be harrassed or harmed, crosses burned on their property, fire hoses turned on them, attack dogs set loose on them.  They could be beaten with clubs.  They could be killed.”

“They had to look these costs straight in the face and decide for themselves if that Prize was worth paying that Price.”

Rosa Parks

“Over the course of time, by going over the Prize and the Price in every possible way, turning their options over and over in their minds and weighing in their hearts what this all meant, every one of those people was able to make a deep personal commitment to that Prize and accept the Price they would pay to get it.  This allowed them to make a deeply personal ethical choice that rested at the core of their being.

After nearly 13 months of this, it was as though there were thousands of Dr. Kings.  If he had been killed then, that boycott still would have gone on and succeeded due to the deep clear-eyed personal commitment of all involved.”

Rosa Parks after her arrest.

To make the important decisions in our life, we need to get clear on the Prize we are after and the Price we pay for it. A lot of parenting, especially of a teenager, is all about this.  Of course, the Price is not only what we might have to sacrifice for our Prize, but also the price we pay for failing to choose.  Difficult times give us the motivation to look for the best of what we can be.

A Rigid or Weakened Identity prevent us from seeing the best of that Prize.  They dim our vision of the Prize and rob us of the confidence to choose.  Or worse, they tragically energize us to make mean spirited or “small” choices as Jimmy Dunne described in another post.

A Compassionate Identity opens up the horizon of possibilities for us.  We can begin to see the best of what we can be.  Our choice can then be better informed.  If from a Compasionate Identity, we lay out that Prize to someone who is in a difficult situation, we offer them a way to hope, a way to the best in themselves.  If we also lay out the Price that will have to be paid to reach that Prize, we give them the chance to make the best choice to make that hope real.  We fire their determination to achieve something higher.

This is the goal of the Unity Project, the ReachUP! USA initiative and this blog.

Related posts:

If you missed the first post on the Compassionate Identity, click here.

Susan Dunne and “What Sue Remembers

A wonderful story from the Balkans:  “Compassion, Fantastic Coffee and My Shock

All Rights Reserved, Copyright, John Woodall, MD, 2011

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  1. mirjana says:

    It is difficult to speak about Prize and Price if someone life filled with suffering, injustice and humiliation. Today in the world certainly has a lot of anonymous people like Rosa Parks or small Pakistani little girl Malala that were sacrificed himself for the dream of a better tomorrow. I am saddened because of the fact that today in the 21st century of progress and technology and attempted
    colonization of Mars, the human brain is still trapped selfishness, greedy, desire for domination. All wars are not teach us nothing. I think that all said te fact that today 85 people in the world owns half the world richness. When would be among men
    more compassion, understanding and love, the price would be negligible, and in prizes would enjoy all. It would be prosperity and love on earth for all. But, unfortunately, this is a wonderful dream.

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