Advice From Birmingham Jail

“Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

I recently reread what is now known as Letter from Birmingham Jail, written by Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was serving time for participating in a nonviolent protest against segregation. Dr. King’s powerful words, infused with insights from his religious training and beliefs and aimed at the discrimination faced by black people, are still profoundly relevant. They continue to apply to the many areas of today’s world permeated by injustice. King’s letter can even serve as a guide for improving the decisions and actions of today’s leaders and managers.

Go back to the quote at the beginning and replace the word ‘law’ with words from your work experience. Try ‘codes of behavior’ and see how it applies.

At another point in the document, Dr. King states “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.”

Do you inflict an unjust code of behavior on workers that is not binding on yourself…or a just code of behavior for all to follow including managers and leaders?

Difference or Sameness?. Do you do things that separate people and set group against group, keeping the good things for your own group? Or do you do things that bring people together into a unified force marching forward together into a better future?

Dr. King speaks of the interrelatedness of everyone, pointing out that we are all part of the same community–the community of humanity. At the same time, we all belong to other communities. Communities of country, religion, ethnicity, gender…and work situation. Surely each and all members of these communities deserve the same justice and respect that he speaks of with regard to the fight against segregation and racial injustice.

Read or reread the letter yourself.  It’s filled with great wisdom that applies to situations from Dr. King’s fight against segregation and discrimination right through to the injustices we face today in the business world. Consider how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go in the way we think of and treat others in our community.

Think how much better off we’d all be if we lived and worked in the world of Dr King’s vision.

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