Dr. King’s Timeless Message To Psychologists and The World

On January 18, 2016, we pause to honor and give respect to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his transformative social justice messages and actions in service to the United States and the world. I want to take this opportunity, therefore, to share some excerpts from one of Dr. King’s messages to psychologists, and by implication to the world. The message was delivered on September 1, 1967 to the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues at the American Psychological Association Convention.

Here are some excerpts from Dr. King’s inspiring message:

“These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society…It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience must ask the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right. And that is where I find myself today…There are certain technical words in every academic discipline which soon become stereotypes and even clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. You who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted…But on the other hand, I am sure that we all recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few…Thus, it may well be that our world is in dire need of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women should be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’; or as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of his vacillations finally came to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; or as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history, words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man…I have not lost hope. I must confess that these have been very difficult days for me personally. And these have been difficult days for every Civil Rights leader, for every lover of justice and peace.”

In my view, Dr. King’s message to psychologist and the world is a timeless message. It is a stark reminder that we must all be mindful of our individual and collective choices and actions and how they manifest to either support or turn a blind eye to unjust circumstances. Dr. King’s message certainly resonates with the spirit that nurtures the Association for Humanistic Psychology, which has a legacy of focusing on the dignity of human beings, a more humane society, and the evolution of human consciousness at individual and collective levels. I hope it also resonates with and continues to resonate with all who seek to make this society and the world a better place.

As we reflect on Dr. King’s message, let us all seek to become and to be our better selves.

With Heart, Carroy “Cuf” Ferguson, PhD AHP President

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