Free Essay About The Obligations Of The Citizen In “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” And “Living As Water”
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Water, Law, Citizenship, Citizen, America, United States, Ideal, Taoism
After reading Lao Tzu’s “Living as Water” and Martin Luther King’s text dubbed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, one can easily discern some apparent similarities between the ideologies of the authors. Said similarities originate from the fact that the works seek to aid in social cohesiveness in their respective societies, with Tzu encouraging certain behavior and King defending his conduct in Birmingham. On that note, King aims to plead the plight of the African American race at the hands of their oppressive white counterparts and encourages his fellow blacks to fight for their rights. On the contrary, Lao Tzu reinforces the concepts of humility as a core factor when dealing with each other and those in authority, all of which are parts of Taoism. Thus emerges the foundation of the identified differences, where each writer has contrasting motivations for writing. For instance, King’s setting is the Birmingham Jail during a time of rampant racial segregation in the Southern States of America. On the other hand, Lao Tzu’s writing comes from the emergence of Taoism as a guiding principle in life with no apparent evidence of a social issue to tackle. Nonetheless, the fact that the men provide counsel on social matters is enough to warrant claims of advice on citizen obligations in the texts, a fact analyzed in this paper. In order to achieve the desired clarity on the subject, there is a need to match the teachings of Lao Tzu and the matters King explores in his letter.
Foremost, countries define their citizens based on drafted constitutions that dictate the responsibility of governments to their people and vice versa. Consequently, it is the responsibility of both citizens and states to adhere to the written constitution because anything contrary to the same dictates defiance. For this reason, in Tzu’s work, an ideal citizen would be like water that “benefits all things and contends not with them” (Tao Te Ching). In the literal sense, water benefits all by giving needed moisture for the survival of living things and do not refute their existence for the mere fact that it encourages their continued existence. About citizenship and the constitution, a country’s resident whose character resembles water will support the existence of an organization that governs the land. Thus, instead of fighting those in authority, the ideal national will sustain the existence and survival of the same, very much like water that supports life. In King’s work, the presence of the constitution is the primary cause of the author’s decision to rally his followers and protest the local government. According to King, white people have denied the black race their “constitutional and God-given rights” for three hundred and forty years (3). Consequently, as part of their obligations as American citizens, King reckons he ought not to be in jail because his actions sought to uphold the ‘Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” (10). King’s arguments are justifiable in the sense that, while the emancipation of slaves called for equality amongst all Americans, the white residents of Birmingham acted against the set law. Consequently, by taking a stand against segregation, King, and other blacks fulfilled their duties as citizens of the United States. In addition, though subtle, King’s actions coincide with the characteristics of water mentioned above. By fighting for the constitution, King, and other blacks encourage a healthy survival of the foundation on which the United States stands and ensures its sustainability.
Next, law-abiding citizens are the most ideal for any country. In other words, countries relish in nationals that uphold suitable conduct that aids in proper ruling for those in power. Coinciding with this fact is Lao Tzu’s quote that “A virtuous person is like water that adapts itself to the perfect place” (Tao Te Ching). At this point, one needs to consider the most fundamental characteristic of water, the fact that it does not have a definite shape. Therefore, water in its natural state adapts to the environment in which it exists. For instance, when introduced to low temperatures, water turns to ice, and in hot temperatures to vapor. In addition, water is not rigid and will adapt to any shape making it possible for one to pour it into containers without straining. Consequently, as per Tzu’s assertions, a person of virtue allows himself or herself to adapt to new environs without causing problems. For citizens, one can relate the characteristics of water to an individual who recognizes the authority and quickly adjusts to the laws of a given land. The perfect illustration of the claim is the topic of abortion that is legal in some states but illegal in others. Hence, if a person resides in a region that legally permits women to terminate their pregnancies, he or she cannot expect to exercise the same liberties in a jurisdiction that views abortion to be illegal. Hence, very much like water, said person manages to adapt to new conditions and adjusts to a new set of rules.
In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” King approaches the issue from a different premise. According to the man, while he encourages his followers to abide by the laws set by the American government, problems arise when said laws are wrong in the first place. While introducing “civil disobedience”, King argues, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” in defense to his choice of actions (3). In other words, the laws Birmingham set aims to oppress one race and benefit another at the expense of the former. For this reason, King perceives the marginalizing legislation to be beneficial to the interests of the whites without considering that of the black people. For this reason, it wrong for people to think them legit and following them will not necessarily mean they are ideal citizens (4). Therefore, by carrying out demonstrations against the white man’s oppressive rules, and that of the country, King serves his role as a citizen. In addition, while keeping King’s arguments in mind, one finds that the demonstrating African Americans manage to adhere to Tzu’s allegations of a virtuous person. Just as water takes a shape from its environs, Martin King reasserts himself to the condition set for the blacks and reacts to it accordingly. As a result, just as water turns to ice in low temperatures, African Americans saw a need to stand against the cold treatment by the whites.
Thirdly, there is the concept of understanding and keeping up with issues pertaining to the country and in turn, provide help where possible. Thus, a state’s national has to have information on current events in his country and not remain unawares of situations going on in the same. Consequently, when said country is in need of help, no matter how dire, it is the responsibility of the citizen to provide the needed aid as long as it is within their means. In Tzu’s words, one can relate such a national to water that “puts itself in a place that no one wishes to be and thus is closest to Tao” (Tao Te Ching). Water, in its primary state, flows on a particular path and follows the whims of outside forces such as physical barriers and the weather. For illustration purposes, one can consider rivers that follow an absolute path to the seas. In such a case, the river cannot change its path unless there is a hindrance or motivator to aid it in altering its course. In the presence of a dam, rivers run dry, and during a storm, the same river can burst its banks and flood adjacent areas. Consequently, because water cannot practice complete autonomy, it is in a position that nobody wishes to take. For good citizenship, the assertions made above have a good example in the event of a war. In case countries declare war, they expect their nationals to recruit in the army or give provisions to the soldiers to ensure victory. There are multiple reasons why a warring country inconveniences its citizens. For instance, men have to enlist into the militia and march to the battlefronts where they face the possibilities of death or severe injuries. At the same time, the troops leave their families behind and face the possibility of never seeing them again. Hence, a real citizen cannot be at liberty to do as they wish but would make self-sacrifices for the sake of their country.
Concurrently, Martin King’s letter depicts the man’s desire to be anywhere else but in a Birmingham jail, which to him is an unjust treatment by the city’s authority. According to the man, after many failed attempts to deal with the problems faced by blacks in an amicable manner, the demonstrations proved as a last resort. To understand King’s position, one can use the analysis of Lao Tzu’s views on how water goes to places “that no one wishes to be” (Tao Te Ching). In this case, after receiving word on the plight of African Americans in Birmingham, King employed the four necessary steps in carrying out a non-violent campaign. As a citizen of the United States, King cannot just act as he pleases without considering the repercussions his decisions will have on the rest of the African American community. At this point, one can safely argue that while the mistreatment of blacks should warrant a proper retaliation, possibly with arms, King proves himself wise. In other words, if King advocated violence as an answer, there are high chances that the whites would find sufficient support to uphold their segregation laws. However, by carrying out peaceful demonstrations, Martin King manages to present blacks as people capable of intellectual thought and at the same time, contradicts the original barbaric traits whites thought they possessed. After collecting information on the treatment of blacks in Birmingham, King proceeded with negotiations that failed prompting the carrying out of non-violence workshops and later, the protests (1). Again, such measures are a clear depiction of King’s desire to avoid any form of unnecessary confrontation between the whites and blacks, non-violent of otherwise. However, much like water that has to follow a given path and respond to outside forces, the unjust treatment of blacks and the failed negotiations necessitated King’s decision to take their grievances to the streets. Either way, King’s actions depict real citizenship by providing necessary help to an identified problem in the American societies.
Finally, yet importantly, an ideal citizen should be ready to serve his or her country when appointed as a leader. In turn, said national ought to uphold certain integrities and be able to determine the best way he or she can handle different situations. Tzu has an ideal citizen whose “governing is natural without desire, which is like the softness of water that penetrates through hard rocks” (Tao Te Ching). One understands Lao Tzu’s words to mean for proper governance, an ideal citizen should not have any personal desire and instead, focus solely on pleasing others. Thus, it is safe to argue that Lao Tzu’s ideologies revolve around the belief that only when one denounces his or her desires will they be able to understand those of other people. In turn, by listening to and understanding other peoples’ desires, the ideal citizen will be able to serve his obligation as an appointed leader. With such factors in mind, Martin King’s character provides the perfect illustration to how the ideal citizen should act as a leader. Throughout the letter, the problems blacks face because of white supremacy in the Southern States are the driving force behind all his actions as a leader of the people. According to King, he is “the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” a position that warrants his presence in Birmingham and his decision to stand up for the African American community (1). As mentioned above, King exhibits wisdom by considering the impact his actions as a leader have on his followers and the rest of the black society. Consequently, for the mere fact that King overlooks his desires to serve the needs of others, one can compare him to Tzu’s soft water and in turn, prove him worthy of his leadership position.