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In praise of maladjustment

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1966 Ware Lecture entitled “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution.”

“I talk a great deal about the need for a kind of divine discontent. And I always mention that there are certain technical words within every science which become stereotypes and clichés. Modern psychology has a word that has become common—it is the word maladjusted. We read a great deal about it. It is a ringing cry of modern child psychology; and certainly we all want to live the well-adjusted and avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But I must say to you this evening, my friends, there are some things in our nation and in our world to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon you to be maladjusted and all people of good will to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, and leave millions of people perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of prosperity.

I must honestly say, however much criticism it brings, that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and to the self-defeating effects of physical violence. In a day when sputniks and Geminis are dashing through outer space and ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer a choice between non-violence and violence: it is now a choice between non-violence and non-existence…

Yes, I must confess that I believe firmly that our world is in dire need of a new organization – the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.

Men and women as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in words that echo across the centuries—”Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, cried in 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; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.”

Through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a year of maladjustment, more weirdness, greater vulnerability and anything else it takes me to get out of the stands, on to the field and doing the work. I hope you’ll join me.

 

HT to Aaron White for calling my attention to this version of MLK’s talk.

 

2 thoughts on “In praise of maladjustment

  1. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article!
    It’s the little changes which will make the largest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

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