American philosopher, Josiah Royce, coined the term, “beloved community,” early in the 1900s. But it wasn’t until the late 1950s that the phrase became more well known. In his 1957 speech, Birth of a New Nation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.”
The concept of the beloved community has been described as having many identifiers. For instance, it has been said that one will know when the beloved community is being achieved when there is an absence of hunger or hate, and comprehensive healthcare and full employment in meaningful work, and robust public education with outcomes unrelated to wealth.
Lofty societal ideals to be sure. But, Dr. King was not positioning the concept of the beloved community as some idealistic fantasy. He believed humans could make progress toward achieving it.
In Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community, people come together with a commitment to nonviolence and agape love – or what he described as an, “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all.” This “redeeming goodwill for all,” was an achievable vision because it started by folk simply agreeing that there is no differentiation among peoples as to their worthiness or unworthiness. All are worthy. And, in the beloved community, he said, we simply, love “others for their sakes.”
One of the most fundamental mechanisms for humans to show our love for others is through giving. Fueled by empathy (i.e., the ability to put oneself in the “shoes” of another, to understand another’s perspective or experience), there are many studies that suggest the more empathetic someone is, the more generous they are. In other words, feeling motivates behavior.
But how do we go about increasing feelings of empathy in a world seemingly dominated by algorithmically-generated “us vs. them” partisanship, brittle tribalism, and fear-based marketing?
It turns out that when humans venture outside of our socio-economic groups, our age groups, our gender groups, our educational attainment groups, our racial groups, we also tend to grow in empathy. Interacting with others who don’t look like us, think like us, or experience life like us is a key to expanding our capacity to see the world through the hearts and minds of others. And, those diverse interactions lead to more giving. In other words, diversify our interactions and humans will increase our demonstrations of love.
Today, in the United States, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his vision for the beloved community. Most of the readers of this blog are engaged as professionals or volunteers in the work of philanthropy, of charitable giving, of loving fellow humans.
My hope for us this day is that we make a renewed commitment to invite our donors, our community members, our alumni, our students, our patients, our clients, and all the constituents we serve to engage further with our missions. Invite them to interact meaningfully with those who benefit from giving and volunteering.
Invite them to have lunch with a student who receives scholarship assistance from your institution. Invite them to help the single mother who is currently receiving services from your food pantry as she drafts her resume. Invite them to serve as a mentor to the boy whose biological father is not present. Invite them to talk with the doctors and nurses who serve patients coming from abusive homes. Invite them to more fully understand and embrace the worthiness of everyone.
Because when you do more of that consistently, you will not only generate more human and financial resources for the important mission of your institution.
You will be doing something far more significant — you (and them) will be helping to build the beautiful and the beloved community.