The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

    Home       Facebook       Youtube     Newsletter     What's New?      Discussion List      Conference     Contact

Obama Video Clips > 2002-01-21 - Martin Luther King Day - Chicago IL


In 2002, Obama was the speaker at the University of Chicago's Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial.
The annual public service honoring King was held in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on Monday, Jan. 21.



Obama 2002 MLK speech: Full video



2002-01-21 - Martin Luther King Day - Chicago Il (have been removed?)

Other person introduces Barack Obama

Camera moves.



transcript from 13:57 to 21:22

13:57: What kept Dr. King going, what kept others in the movement going, wasn't a lack of controversy, wasn't absence of God. What kept doctor King going was a firm set of principles.  The basis for action in the midst of confusion. I won't try, in the few minutes remaining to me, reduce the entire philosophy of Dr. King, that would do him injustice. But I will suggest that these
three principles that serve as a foundation as a moral compass for Dr. King,
perhaps, can guide our as well.

The first principle implicit in the number of remarks, that preceded me, the principle of empathy. Not sympathy, mind you, but empathy. A willingness to walk in someone else's shoes. A willingness to listen to and learn from people who are not like you. A politics and philosophy that’s grounded in the simple premise that we share some common ground.

It seems so simple. The golden rule. And yet today no less than 40 years ago it seems to be so hard to put into practice. It's hard to imagine that the powerful in our society would tolerate the burgeoning prison industrial complex, if they imagined that the black man, the Latino man that is being imprisoned were something like their sons.

It's hard to imagine the powerful in our society would tolerate schools that don't teach, that are chronically underfunded, that are chronically understaffed, that are chronically under inspired. If they could believe, they did believe that those children could learn just like their own children.

16:00: It's hard to believe that we would have senior citizens in this country confronted with the choice between paying the rent and purchasing the prescription drugs that they need, if the powerful in our society thought that those seniors were just like their parents.

It seems like we got a empathy shortage, an empathy deficit. More serious than the federal budget deficit. We've become so cynical that it almost seems naive to believe that we can understand each other across the gulf of race, or class or region or religion. It's so much easier to retreat into what’s familiar to us. To stay in our own neighborhoods, to organize around the tribe. And yet we have the belief of common ground, of common hopes of common dreams. What chance do we have?


17:00: The philosophy of non-violence only makes sense if the powerful can be made to recognize themselves and the powerless. It only makes sense if the powerless can be made to recognize themselves in the powerful.

You know, the principle of empathy gives broader meaning, by the way, to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but rich people are all for nonviolence.

Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure people don’t take their stuff. But the principle of empathy recognizes that there are more subtle forms of violence to which we are answerable. The spirit of empathy condemns not only the use of fire hoses and attack dogs to keep people down but also accountants and tax loopholes to keep people down.


18:00: I’m not saying that what Enron executives did to their employees is the moral equivalent of what Bull Connor did to black folks, but I’ll tell you what, the employees at Enron feel violated. When a company town sees it's plant closing because some distant executives made some decision despite the wage concessions, despite the tax breaks, and they see their entire economy collapsing, they feel violence.

When American companies export arms across the globe, no questions asked. And they end up in the hands of right-wing militias? That's sure enough violence.

An empathy shortage, but it's not just the rich and powerful that need an infusion of empathy .  The attackers on September 11th wouldn't have done what they did looking into the eyes of child in the plane and they recognize their own child. A gangbanger who shoots into a crowd of innocents, can't do that if he recognizes himself in the aisle and thinks that the world is worth something.

19: 20: Even those of us among us who adhere to non-violence and talk with me about social change, the activist and the academics. We've got our own empathy shortage, that I'm not very sympathetic to the idea of political correctness a lot of times, it just seems to me a strategy for folks who want to say rude and insensitive things to avoid criticism.

And yet what’s also true, is that there are times when the folks on our side, in this room, will engage in identity politics. That aren't interested in redeeming the (tyrant?), but putting him down. Who are more interested in symbolic victories rather than trying to figure out how can we can find some common ground. We do that.

An empathy shortage. That's what the principle of empathy does, its calls us all to task. The heartless conservative, the patronizing liberal, the powerful and the powerless. The oppressed and the oppressor. No one is exempt from finding common ground, because when no one is exempt it forces all of us to examine our own actions, our own belief systems. It shakes us out of our complacency and protects us from our own blindness our own self-righteousness. Our own fanaticism.

When Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, he didn't say its a black thing, you can't understand. He said it's a human thing. You must understand.

20:50: Dr. King talked about values like dignity and self determination and honesty and kindness, he didn't label them Jewish values or Palestinian values. He was talking about human values. Black men and white men. Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic. Muslim, Asian, Latino, homosexual and heterosexual. Old and young, rich and poor. We need to spend some more time people, talking about our shared values. And we need to help each other live up to those values.



21:30 Which takes me to the second principle, taking responsibility for our actions.

26:50 The third principle, the principle of hope.