Desperate for Inspiration
May 4th, 2011

Over the past two days I have been relieved to learn that I am not alone in my discomfort with all the celebration over the death of Osama bin Laden.  When the news broke I clutched GAP’s hand.  I was incredulous.  A smile started to spread across my face which I quickly stifled.  And as the news started to sink in my appreciation for the gravity of the situation increased.

Prior to President Obama’s address to the nation news anchors filled air with the few details that had been confirmed, and with coverage of the spontaneous celebrations that had erupted in Times Square and in front of the White House.  Those celebrations didn’t sit right with me at the time, but it took me a little while to articulate why.  Then, on Monday, I posted the following to my Facebook wall:

I’m bewildered by all the celebration over Bin Laden’s death. I feel relief. I feel thankful. And I feel a sense of closure. But I do not feel joyful.

This was out of character for me.  Most of my FB posts are limited to blog links and other articles I find interesting.  Rarely do I comment on my own opinions, the logistics of my day, or other minutiae of daily life.  And less than rarely do I comment on politics or other controversial topics.  But I felt strongly about my reactions to the celebrations; strongly enough to risk stirring the pot.  Also, I was curious about how people would respond.  I originally hail from a very red state, and wondered if my words would resonate with many of my Facebook friends, or if they would register as unpatriotic.

I was proud and relieved to find that many of my friends responded in affirmation.  And since then, as I have perused the web for other responses to this news, I have found that many people share my bewilderment.  In fact, another Facebook friend posted the following quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Upon reading it I commented on my friend’s post that I found the quote inspiring and that I thought a great number of people needed to read it as well.  Apparently I wasn’t the only person with this response to the quote because it was all over Twitter and Facebook on Monday.  I found this heartening until I learned from this brief article in The Atlantic online that the quote was contrived.  That is, the second, third, and fourth sentences of the quote were in fact spoken by Dr. King, although in an entirely different context.  (Mass killings such as we saw on September 11th did not occur during the civil rights movement.)  But the first sentence was wholly made up by someone else.  By whom?  I don’t know.  Why?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that we latched onto it with incredible fervor.

Are we so desperate for inspiration that we’ll grasp at anything false just to feel something in our hands?  Are we so starved for eloquence and meaning that we are willing to fabricate them just to sate our unmet desires?  If the answer is yes, then let us embrace that desperation and turn our attentions to fulfilling it.  But let’s do it authentically.  The first sentence of the fake MLK quote is lovely.  Whoever wrote it clearly knows how to turn a phrase.  I wonder what else that person might have to say.  And I wonder why he would choose to hide in the middle of someone else’s words, rather than to stand up and let his own voice be heard.

I’m glad that there is a critical mass of people who find celebration over the death of another person unseemly.  And I’m glad that we’re looking for inspiring words to guide us during a time of great ambivalence.  I just wish that in our search we weren’t so eager to fill the void that we would choose to latch onto what is first, rather than what is real.

4 Responses to “Desperate for Inspiration”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    Yes yes and yes.
    Bewildered is a good way to describe how I felt about the raucous celebrations too.

  2. BigLittleWolf Says:

    You raise so many important issues in this post, Gale – to do with our varied and complex responses to what we perceive as “justice,” as well as our way of processing events in contemporary times.

    And yes, I believe we are dreadfully in need of inspiration, and this in part explains our tendency to latch on to any crumb of good news (or quick fix) without looking to “vet” the sources or even think through the consequences.

    Does that mean we’ve become sheep?

    I don’t think so. But I do consider it a sign of how tired we are, collectively, as a culture. It is also a sign that we must take ownership of vigilance. So-called media sources are blending with legitimate news sources; they are not one in the same. The former doesn’t necessarily authenticate its information, the latter is expected to, though certainly feels the squeeze of time pressures in all ways.

    I hope it isn’t imposing, but I’d love for you to read this. I genuinely find it to be a concern, for all of us, touching on what you raise here.

  3. Cathy Says:

    It seems that is the nature of our world these days – the internet provides a forum for viral distribution of information – both correct and incorrect. I do like the first sentence though and I agree, it’s too bad the person didn’t stand up and just say it on his/her own. Perhaps it’s like the telephone game – maybe it was properly punctuated to reflect a distinction but upon repetitive translation it morphed. I don’t know.

  4. Ana Says:

    Yes, to all you said. I really have little to add, you said all the things I was thinking about this!