Today our nation observes a holiday devoted to the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. King, like many other historical figures, has been boiled down to a soundbite, a facebook meme, a statue. His years of putting himself in harms way for the benefit of those on the bottom rungs of society are reduced to a single speech and an assassin’s bullet. Sometimes he gets a nod for his emphasis on non-violent resistance as a tool for social change, but we rarely talk about his views on international war. He is lauded as a leader in bringing about equality for African-American citizens, but his work on behalf of all the poor is forgotten.
I read this article on Red Letter Christians today about our mis-remembering of King and his broader work.
But we don’t just mis-remember King, we mis-remember (or buy into distortions of) many historical figures.
As a culture, we define our popular historical figures and rarely question the mythology of their lives. We trust the urban legend and fail to use the readily available resources for fact-checking. Especially today with the misinformation widely passed on through email and social media, it takes dedication to seek out the source of the information and verify its truthfulness.
Today I also read a facebook meme, innocently passed on by a friend, of maxims falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln. They sound like woodsy words of wisdom about people pulling their own weight, but they are not his words.
So, I am issuing a challenge to myself and anyone who will listen: Dig Deeper & Double Check Everything.
Take time to learn about the popular American historical figures. I know it takes some effort, but here is an easy way to begin: If they have a holiday, take 15 minutes and look them up in a reputable reference resource like an encyclopedia (Not Wikipedia). Don’t be the messenger for misinformation. It doesn’t matter if a teacher, preacher, email, best friend, smart person, close relative or quack shares the information with you, don’t believe it and pass it on unless you double check.