||CHAPTER 5: ACTION VS. ARMCHAIR THEORIZING||Page 13|
Action is the central step of consciousness development. In the peace movement, it distinguishes the peace activist. In psychology, it distinguishes the new psychology as a psychology of action. All other aspects of consciousness development may be distinguished in terms of whether they come before or after the initial action: some are precursors; other are consequences that come later as a result of action. As we have already seen, the step of values and purposes and the step of anger are precursors that lay the base and motivate action (although these steps continue to develop and intensify along with the other steps that come later).
On the question of peace, there are many people who never develop to the point of action. We have all met people who seem to share our values, purpose and anger for peace and justice, but who, for one reason or another, preach only "armchair theory" and "dry-as-dust gospel," as described by Martin Luther King Jr.:
A faithful few had always shown a deep concern for social problems, but too many had remained aloof from the area of social responsibility. Much of this indifference, it is true, stemmed from a sincere feeling that ministers were not supposed to get mixed up in such earthly temporal matters as social and economic improvements; they were to "preach the gospel," and keep men's minds centered on "the heavenly." But however sincere, this view of religion, I felt, was too confined....Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.
King could easily have been speaking about certain university professors in the same words he used for religious ministers.
The first step into action may be quite dramatic for those who come from professions in the church or universities where armchair theorizing predominates. For example, the initial action of Jane Addams that launched her entire career of social work began when she was wandering "disconnected" and "disillusioned" in Europe following her vision of "despair and resentment" in London:
It is hard to tell just when the very simple plan which afterward developed into the Settlement began to form itself in my mind. It may have been even before I went to Europe for the second time, but I gradually became convinced that it would be a good thing to rent a house in a part of the city where many primitive and actual needs are found, in which young women who had been given over too exclusively to study, might restore a balance of activity along traditional lines and learn of life from life itself.
Similarly, the crucial decision of Martin and Coretta King to move from Boston to Montgomery, Alabama, was made because "in spite of the disadvantages and inevitable sacrifices, our greatest service could be rendered in our native South....We never wanted to be considered detached spectators." As they anticipated, this move placed them right in the middle of the unfolding drama of the struggle for civil rights, and, ultimately, the movement against the Vietnam War.
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