Dr. Martin Luther King

David Cowles

Feb 7, 2022

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”


These are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King from one of his final Sunday Sermons, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”.


The words of Dr. King, yes, but also the message of many great philosophers before him: Anaximander, Aristotle, Buber and Whitehead to name just a few. Sometimes called the father of Western philosophy, Anaximander taught that I come to be only in the context of my ‘making space’ for you to be (and your ‘making space’ for me).


According to Aristotle, it is ‘mutuality’ that allows ‘actuality’ to emerge from ‘potentiality’, potentiality that Aristotle regarded as the ‘substance’ of the universe.


Jumping ahead a mere 2500 years, we find this same sentiment in the writings of Martin Buber and Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead, the titular father of ‘Process Philosophy’, substituted ‘creativity’ for Aristotle’s ‘potentiality’. Buber reprised Anaximander in his best-known work, I and Thou, writing, “In the beginning is the relation.”


We think of the world in terms of subjects and objects (nouns), accidentally connected through relationships (verbs). But according to our 4 philosophers (above), and Dr. King, that is not how the world works. Relatedness is primary. Verbs come before nouns.


We imagine that my ‘I’ and your ‘you’ are constants, connected over time by a hodgepodge of accidental events. We are so well trained by the language we inherited from our parents that it is almost impossible for us to think of the world any other way. Yet Western philosophy offers an alternative perspective: there are no ‘nouns’ until there is a ‘verb’ connecting them.


“We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – St. Paul, First Letter to Corinthians.

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