Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches that it is actually possible for human beings to be both alive and dead. That is not a contradiction, because people can be alive in one sense, such as biologically alive, and dead in another, such a psychically dead, which is a deadness of the human spirit.
How does the tragic condition of the living-dead occur? What are some of its possible causes? One of them, according to King, is the failure to speak truth — when necessary — to power. Such a person remains silent, when something should have been said to protect the rights of others. It marks the beginning of the end of a person’s life. Something happens to his or her inner self: He or she starts to exist without really living. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause, and you refuse to do it, because you are afraid. You refuse to do it, because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house and so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90 but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90 and the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”
For King, there is really no moral neutrality to life, for not to take a stand is to take a stand, namely, the stand against taking a stand. Silence and inactivity side with the oppressor, the aggressor, not the victims of injustice. In the moral sphere, then, there is actually an active form of passivity. In other words, to do nothing is actually to do something, namely, not to do anything about injustice. Thus, a moral position is taken, even by not taking any moral position.
Therefore, do something; say something, when the time is right. Act on behalf of others. You may be criticized, vilified, perhaps hated, for the stand you take. Yes, you may even lose your job, but you will remain alive; you won’t lose yourself. And in the end, when you leave this world, that is all you can really take with you — yourself!