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AskMLKFi
August 29, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Do you lack self confidence? Not sure what you should do after high school? Having trouble finding a nice young man? Are your friends interested in nothing but scotch, girlie magazines and gin? Ask Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about it. He's got Advice for Living.

“Let the man that led the Montgomery boycott lead you into happier living”

From 1957 to 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an advice column for Ebony magazine. He answered "readers’ questions about marital infidelity, sexuality, birth control and other such matters, while also tackling issues such as capital punishment, atomic weapons testing, and race relations." Here is the complete run of his column, Advice for Living.


Samples:

Does a philosophy of non-violence apply to a friend who hits you over the head with an iron pipe? Yes. Don't kill him.

"I believe God reveals himself in all religions."

His advice is less than helpful if you are a nice young man looking for a nice young man.

Play gospel music, not rock. The two are incompatible. "Rock 'n' roll...so often plunges men's minds into degrading and immoral depths."

Bad temper? "Expel a lower vice by concentrating on a higher virtue."


A running theme in his advice is that when you find yourself in bad circumstances you should focus on changing your character rather than changing the circumstances. For example, what if your racist mother favors your lighter skinned half-siblings? His answer in full:

You can probably best deal with your problem by beginning with an analysis of self. I know this sounds rather strange to you, since you have already concluded that your mother and half-brothers and sisters are responsible for the problem. But you must honestly ask yourself the question, whether the problem has arisen because of an inferiority complex that you have developed as a result of your complexion. You must be sure that you do not unconsciously develop a bitterness because of your color, and thereby drive persons away from you. Maintain a wholesome attitude at all times and a radiant personality. These qualities, I am convinced, will awaken within those around you a responding attitude of kindness.

This theme sometimes leads to disturbing conclusions. Physically abusive alcoholic husband? "Stay with the situation a little while longer."

His personal advice runs parallel to his political strategy: respond to evil with passive resistance and love. "To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow (28 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm getting really sick of this Judeo-Christian "turn the other cheek" method of overcoming evil. It fits right in with the whole "You'll get your reward when you're dead" scam- AKA it doesn't work and only makes things easy for the bad guys.

Civil rights were won just as much by violence or the threat thereof as they were by peaceful marches.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, not bad, for 1957 to 1958. Considering he was a Christian pastor first and foremost, and it was the 1950's, I do not find any of this advice surprising.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:42 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


yeah, OK, but MLKFi sounds like some something or other that I'm supposed to want to do to a parent somehow...
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:46 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm getting really sick of this Judeo-Christian "turn the other cheek" method of overcoming evil. It fits right in with the whole "You'll get your reward when you're dead" scam- AKA it doesn't work and only makes things easy for the bad guys.

Civil rights were won just as much by violence or the threat thereof as they were by peaceful marches.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:38 PM on August 29 [+] [!]


"Turn the other cheek" is only bad advice if it is an excuse for passivity.
posted by jefficator at 4:47 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Here's an ad in Jet, for a subscription to Ebony, featuring Dr. King and the column.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:49 PM on August 29, 2011


I'm getting really sick of this Judeo-Christian "turn the other cheek" method of overcoming evil. It fits right in with the whole "You'll get your reward when you're dead" scam- AKA it doesn't work and only makes things easy for the bad guys.

Yeah, that stupid bible thumping Ghandi guy probably started the whole mess with his totally ineffective non-violent strategies.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:51 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


His advice is less than helpful if you are a nice young man looking for a nice young man.


Just another fun reminder that pretty much all of the historical figures I respect wouldn't care for me much, to put it mildly.
posted by Garm at 4:52 PM on August 29, 2011


Are your friends interested in nothing but scotch, girlie magazines and gin?

Ugh. Gin? Seriously?
posted by pla at 4:59 PM on August 29, 2011


Well they did put it behind scotch and girlie magazines, so yeah, that's its rightful place.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 5:03 PM on August 29, 2011


Gin is only last to emphasise that it's the best and most important, though all three are fine things and a solid basis for friendship.

My favourite line: "I do not think you are being snobbish; you are simply responding to the highest and best in your being."
posted by carbide at 5:06 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


While MLK was not perfect and was a product of his time, I don't think it's really fair to paint him as an anti-gay bigot based on that advice. After all, his march on Washington was organized by Bayard Rustin, who was openly gay.

And although I'm not an expert on the subject, it's hard to imagine his views on the subject didn't evolve over time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought the letter had the men drinking scotch and the women drinking gin.

And if drinking gin is wrong, I'm not going to be right.

Just another fun reminder that pretty much all of the historical figures I respect wouldn't care for me much, to put it mildly.

Historical people gonna have historical attitudes. On the plus side, I wager you've never been discriminated against by a dead person.
posted by GuyZero at 5:14 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Stay with the situation a little while longer." (abusive alcoholic husband situation)

This really was the mantra of the time. Growing up in the 60s I read Ann Landers's advice column regularly, because it was on the comic page of the newspaper. Somebody wrote her a critical letter to the effect that she was breaking up homes, advising divorce, etc. She responded that she had never advised divorce and that she'd buy the correspondent a brand new car if she ever did so. But in 1975, she herself got divorced after a 30-year marriage, and softened her stance to the point of suggesting divorce in some cases. I don't know if she ever bought that writer a car.
posted by beagle at 5:18 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm getting really sick of this Judeo-Christian "turn the other cheek" method of overcoming evil. It fits right in with the whole "You'll get your reward when you're dead" scam- AKA it doesn't work and only makes things easy for the bad guys.

This is partly true, but consider some equally oversimplified opposite formulations (say, "proportional response" or "there's only one thing those people understand -- threats" or even just "violence works"). These tend to produce escalating violence, even among the population of the planet that isn't "bad guys." Forceful response to force is sometimes poorly reacting rather than wisely responding, and so the usefulness of "turn the other cheek" considerations is not limited to postmortal rewards.

It's also true that "turn the other cheek" is problematic taken alone as unqualified advice. It isn't alone in this respect either among Biblical phrases or in general. It doesn't really come alone, though, for people who aren't focused on piecing the text from which it's drawn into simple maxims (which is probably rarer than it should be).

Similarly, I think the advice to focus on developing your character -- and to generalize, a focus on taking responsibility for situations that you encounter -- is often empowering and can help people work effectively with others and find better solutions than escalating conflict or disengagement. But it doesn't apply everywhere. Particularly situations where one party will, with or without any encouragement, escalate or make a habit of violence or other underhanded manipulation on their own.
posted by weston at 5:20 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the bus boycott was non-violent, and very effective. There is a huge difference between non-violence, and turning the other cheek. At least, when you are complaining about it, I presume you mean taking what the other party dishes out, with no response, duncadunc
posted by annsunny at 5:27 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm getting really sick of this Judeo-Christian "turn the other cheek" method of overcoming evil.

Neither Gandhi nor Buddha was Jew or Christian.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wacky!
posted by serazin at 5:52 PM on August 29, 2011


I'm getting really sick of this Judeo-Christian "turn the other cheek" method of overcoming evil. It fits right in with the whole "You'll get your reward when you're dead" scam- AKA it doesn't work and only makes things easy for the bad guys.

MLK Jr really didn't "turn the other cheek" in the sense of "wait around, get your reward in Heaven." He just... didn't throw rocks. Didn't shoot people. But he shouted and marched and organized and got in people's faces, he demanded justice at the top of his lungs and enlisted millions of other people to demand it with him. He was not quiet, he was not passive, he did not shrink back and wait for his Heavenly reward - he went and fought for justice, with righteous fury. I've got a hell of a lot of disagreement with a lot of the things he said in the linked advice - Rock and Roll is awesome! - but let's not pretend the man was a passive forsaker of this world, meekly awaiting a better World to Come.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


It seems so strange to me the MLK wrote an advice column. That said, it's an interesting read. Some of the advice still resonates to day, but at least as much of it is a product of its time and author, and seems either quaint or downright backward by more modern standards.
posted by asnider at 6:15 PM on August 29, 2011


Wow, I had no idea he had an advice column. Honestly, from the above the fold text, I was expecting some kind of borderline/blatantly offensive meme tumblr. Glad to learn I was wrong.

While MLK was not perfect and was a product of his time, I don't think it's really fair to paint him as an anti-gay bigot based on that advice. After all, his march on Washington was organized by Bayard Rustin, who was openly gay.

I don't know about MLK himself, but his wife Coretta Scott King was an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Sadly, some others in his family, not so much.
posted by kmz at 6:49 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neither Gandhi nor Buddha was Jew or Christian.

It was valuable for me to realize that my perception of the degree of some affront might be quite a bit higher than intended by the offending party.

The upshot of that is that if the other guy feels the same way about my reaction, then both of us can easily convince ourselves that we're offering a "measured response" when what's actually happening is mutual escalation and reckless brinkmanship.
posted by mhoye at 7:52 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


[...] and seems either quaint or downright backward by more modern standards.

In fairness, there's not much about the fifties that doesn't seem quaint and backward by modern standards.
posted by mhoye at 7:54 PM on August 29, 2011


These are so much fun to read. For one thing, he is terrible at writing advice columns. Every question is treated with an equally weighty response. Some of his advice, as mentioned above, is also quite problematic, (to the woman who's husband is cheating: "Do you spend too much time with the children and the house and not pay attention to him? Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag? Do you make him feel important. ..like somebody?") On the other hand, he is of course an incomparable hero of American history. So it's sort of touching to see him both taking something as seemingly trite as an advice column so solemnly and seriously, and also to see him just not be that good at something.
posted by serazin at 8:16 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


...to see him just not be that good at something.

"Question: I have been in the South only once in my life. Now my husband, who is in the air force, has been transferred to Georgia. Our little girl, who is 9, is an honor student in a very good school in our community. She knows little about prejudice and discrimination. My parents say I should not take her out of the integrated New York school and expose her to the bias of Georgia. Do you agree?

Answer: There is a great deal of truth in the advice that your parents have given you. It would certainly be a difficult transition for a child who has attended integrated schools all her life to suddenly be shifted to a segregated school with inadequate facilities and an inferior curriculum. Such a transition could easily lead to inner conflicts and other psychological problems. However,your problem may be solved if your husband lives on the base. It is a definite policy now, as a result of a Federal executive order, that there can be no segregation in schools on army, naval and air force bases. If you can get your daughter in an integrated school on the base, I don’t think the other aspects of southern life would do her extreme harm since she would have little contact with segregation per se. If living quarters cannot be arranged on the base it might be better for you to sacrifice a few months and keep your daughter in the New York school."

Seems like good advice to me. The think about King is that he was far from perfect, but was nonetheless able to achieve great things. For me the powerful lesson is that you do not need to be the Son of God or even a Prophet of God to make society come correct.
posted by three blind mice at 10:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh of course! Like any sane person I am an enormous admirer of King. And I agree, there is some good advice here. But there was also bad advice. And also some fine advice delivered in a sort of stiff fashion. People are not perfect at everything they do, that's all.

A friend pointed out to me after looking at this site that we sometimes forget King was a minister! This is part of the job of a minister - to counsel and advise. When read in that context I actually "got" his style here more and it felt more natural to me.
posted by serazin at 11:39 PM on August 29, 2011


The Copyright Nightmare of "I Have a Dream"
posted by homunculus at 12:03 AM on August 30, 2011


Saint Martin: Why we don’t—and can’t—celebrate the real MLK.
posted by homunculus at 12:05 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, some of the advice is pretty questionable - he was obviously a product of his times. But I love the advice to the publicity director trying to get both black people and white people behind her cause.

There is only one way to deal with this problem-tell the truth with
sincerity and love. All people of goodwill are moved by truth when it is honestly
and sincerely told.


I have to remember that one. It seems like good advice for life in general.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:40 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


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