When I went to college my first major was Social Thought and Political Economy. My hunger and thirst for justice were fueled by one of the best teachers I had in high school, Judi Freeman. But my first sense of why I should care about the rights or lives of others came from my faith based upbringing.
I believe that we are all called by God to serve one another. Serving others is a common theme in several major world religions, leading me to believe that no matter which one you practice, we're probably all on the right track when it comes to that particular point.
Christians are taught that we're all different parts of one Body. We're each called to a unique and different vocation, and we are meant to utilize our own gifts as well as we can so the body is complete. It follows, although this is not part of the verse I am thinking of, that different parts of the body should protect and care for one another. I use my hands to wash my face, my nose stops me from eating rotten foods in my fridge (or purse), and if my immune system starts to attack me instead of intruders, there's a serious problem.
It's an analogy that works well for most non Theists too, I think. The reason I should care about your lot in life is because ultimately your lot and mine are inextricably connected.
I left the Social Justice and Political Economy program because during my dad's illness (and after his death) it became increasingly necessary for me to do something immediate and tangible to save people. "I needed to get my hands dirty," was often how I'd answer the unavoidable questions from professors about my change of heart. When I made that (admittedly rash) decision to change my course of study I had no idea how hard the next four years would be. I also didn't know how much being a nurse would change and shape the way I view the world every single day. I don't regret that decision one bit.
Still, when I made that decision I also left behind a wonderful network of people who really do believe that they can make a difference and leave the world a better place than when they got here. I miss that zeal. I miss rising to meet the challenge of making change happen. I miss the implicit expectation within that community of rising above selfishness and apathy. Every day.
I am humbled by the perseverance of those who dedicate their lives to human rights.I am floored by the hope that they carry like a lamp for the rest of us.
Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Let's also celebrate the lives of all those who have given themselves in the constant struggle for justice and equality. While we're at it, let's celebrate each other for the fullness of life we bring to one another and to the world when we act out of love instead of hate. Let's celebrate how far we've come, and let's vow to go even further. Let's celebrate God. And Love. And let's vow to use our own unique gifts to fill the world with beauty, peace and compassion.