February 3, 2014 by Liberty
History tends to look at men and women that died fighting for a noble cause as a special kind of hero. People are often willing to say that a person was “willing to die for the cause.” Martin Luther King Jr. was “willing to die for civil rights.” He received death threat after death threat and still stepped in front of audiences to make his voice heard.
People look at men like Martin Luther King Jr. and wish that they could have that much conviction about the things that they believe.
In this article, I want to break that light that people shine on martyrdom. Willing to die for a cause isn’t enough. You need to be willing to live for it.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t change the nation because he was fighting for equal rights when he died. Many men and women died fighting for equal rights before him. He changed the nation because of what he did before he died. In fact, could his willingness to die for his cause be responsible for the mediocre progress of equality in the decades after his death?
Note: I use Martin Luther King Jr. as an example. I’m generally against building “heroes” in general but the typical generalizations about him make a wonderful example.
The Train Still Rolls Along Without Its Engine
Martin Luther King Jr. was an engine in the civil rights movement. The number one problem in getting people to change is getting people started. He could speak and write in a way that got people started. While he wasn’t the sole engine for the civil rights movement, he made an impact that was larger than just about anyone in the spotlight.
He could gather crowds that would blow most speakers away. He spoke of non-violence and equality in a way that really stood out from the crowd.
After his death, this speaker of non-violence’s death was responsible for riots breaking out in major cities around the country. Dozens were killed and thousands were injured in the violence. Not only that but no one since has been able to gather the same crowds as he could discussing equality. The engine was gone. Naturally, some things still changed after his death but it slowed and it stalled. The weight of the movement pushed itself forward but, without him, it stopped.
Who knows how much more would have been changed if Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t get killed? I like to think that his major anti-war platform would have caught on. He could have ended up saving thousands of men and women around the world (or more.)
Certainly, I can’t blame Martin Luther King Jr. for being assassinated but you do have to wonder how much better the world would be if he chose to take a few more precautions.
Not Everyone Is Martin Luther King Jr.
My belief that martyrs could change more without their deaths is only a small part of the discomfort I have with the idea of martyrdom. I may not have ever heard your beautiful sweet as silk voice and thought about your enthralling philosophy but I think it’s fair to assume you’re not Martin Luther King Jr. Statistically speaking, you probably won’t even have the audience of Al Sharpton.
The vast majority of “martyrs” die in silence. They don’t get days named after them. They don’t get books written about them. They’re lucky if they get an article in the local newspaper. People die for what they believe in every single day. How many of these people do you hear about?
The willingness to suffer for a cause alone is not something worth being proud of.
Suffering does no good without an audience. If you don’t have an audience then, odds are, your story will not catch on. If you’re not paying your taxes and think that you’ll get an article in the newspaper about it then (unless you happen to be a celebrity) it’s not going to happen. You’re going to get locked up for nothing.
Forget The Religious Relic
Suffering for a cause is a religious belief. Just about every major religion spreads the idea that suffering is, at least in some cases, a virtue. The problems on earth are considered to be “tests” for heaven or some other evidence free argument.
Original sin is used as an excuse why you don’t deserve all the pleasure you can have today. You supposedly deserve to suffer because of what you are. It’s just a faith based argument.
There is nothing wrong with making rational decisions instead of choosing to be a martyr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was protected by armed bodyguards. At least to some extent, he understood it. If you’re deciding whether to perform some act of civil disobedience and go to jail or just moving on with your life then I wouldn’t judge you for picking life.
The more you’re willing to make rational decisions, the longer and better you’re going to be able to change the world. Many activists fight hard while they’re young. Then after they go to jail for their believes or suffer a little too much, they give up on their opinion altogether and rationalize they were wrong.
Don’t become a martyr for the things you believe. You do not need to suffer much to change the world. Whenever you find yourself pushing the envelope into something that could permanently harm your future you should think twice about it.
A persons chance of changing the world usually with martyrdom.
Martyrdom is not the goal. Changing the world is.