Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising
You are probably reading this column at the end of what may appropriately be called, “Equality Month.”
It may be so called because two of the world’s greatest advocates of human equality have their birthdays celebrated worldwide in January.
They were not politicians or generals, neither was ever elected to high public office, and both came from professions that were – and are – unlikely to spawn political philosophers.
Americans will immediately name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Before his assassination at the age of 39, he had led a revolution in peaceful protest and led the nation into a new age of political and social equality. A national holiday marks the debt owed by the nation to his wisdom and courage. We celebrate on the Monday nearest his birthday, Jan. 15.
Most of us, however, would not recognize the contribution of the son of a poor Scottish farmer. Born in the southwest of Scotland, Robert Burns grew to be the best-known poet of his age. Dead for more than two centuries, authorities still recognize him as the greatest poet in the English language. Around the world, his admirers gather for celebratory dinners, often wearing kilts in honor of their own Scottish heritage, on his birthday, Jan. 25.
Burns led no marches, counseled no presidents or kings. He headed no movements, nor did he create memorable speeches that stirred a nation to action. He died at 37 from illness. In his day, there were no televisions and no elections to compel the powerful to attend the will of the people.
But there were books.
Burns’ passionate poems of respect for the common people and his logical appeals for the inherent worth of every individual moved thousands of his fellow Scots and British immigrants to the New World – many transported against their will by the English king.
Like Dr. King, his words proved to be powerful tools to encourage freedom from tyranny and to embolden a belief in self-worth among both men and women. Although popular with the high-born and the wealthy for the beauty of his verse, he was revered by the common people for the dignity he gave their lives.
In case you forgot, you probably sang his great hymn to friendship only three weeks be-fore his birthday, three weeks ago.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” we all sang on New Year’s Eve. The answer is so obvious, the poet never provides it.
Friendship is forever.
Among his many poems extolling the worth of the individual is the manifesto of equality best known as “A Man’s a Man for All That.” After making the powerful argument that a person of character and honesty is of greater value than one who is merely wealthy or well-born, he concludes,
“Then let us pray that come it may —
as come it will for all that —
That sense and worth, o’er all the earth
may bear the gree, and all that.
For all that, and all that,
It’s coming yet for all that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for all that.”
We cannot but believe that now, as “Equality Month” becomes Black History Month, Dr. King would enthusiastically agree.
So should we all.