||CHAPTER 3: ACQUISITION OF VALUES AND PURPOSE VS. ALIENATION||Page 7|
The consciousness development of the great peace activists begins, as in all of us, as a reflection of the values of society. These are learned by imitation and through formal instruction. In the process, we come to see the purpose of our lives in terms of what we can contribute to society and to human history. It can be said that such consciousness is what links the physiological and psychological processes of our individual lives to the political and economic processes of history.
The acquisition of values and purposes is not a passive process, but it is an active process in which the growing person reaches out, grasps, and integrates social values and molds them into a personal sense of destiny and purpose. In writing about her husband, Coretta Scott King describes the process like the unfolding drama of a play:
Though I had been opposed to going to Montgomery, I realize now that it was an inevitable part of a greater plan for our lives. Even in 1954 I felt that my husband was being prepared - and I too - for a special role about which we would learn more later. Each experience that we had was preparation for the next one. Being in Montgomery was like a drama that was unfolding. Martin and I and the people of that small southern city were like actors in a play,the end of which we had not yet read. Yet we felt a sense of destiny, of being propelled in a certain positive direction.
The acquisition of values and purpose is a social process. It occurs within a social context, beginning usually in the family. The values that Martin Luther King Jr. integrated into his life purpose came literally from his mother's lap. King wrote how his mother told him about slavery, the Civil War, and the establishment of segregation, and "she said the words that almost every Negro hears before he can understand the injustice that makes them necessary: 'You are as good as anyone.'" The family of Sandy Pollack was politically involved and her parents "tried to bring some political consciousness into her life" by starting a social action club for teenagers where "kids discussed issues presented by speakers once a month...and held folk-song 'hootenannies.'" And the initiation of Eugene Debs into the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was the fulfillment of his father's passionate commitment to the ideals of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. From then on, it was "the spirit of the working class" that gave him commitment:
I rode on the engines over mountain and plain, slept in the cabooses and bunks, and was fed from their pails by the swarthy stokers who still nestle close to my heart, and will until it is cold and still. Through all these years I was nourished at Fountain Proletaire. I drank deeply of its waters and every particle of my tissue became saturated with the spirit of the working class.
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