Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.: Using social media to realize his vision of economic equality

Image: AP

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I’m sharing the epilogue to We First in which I reference famous words from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech that still ring true today. Economic equality was an important part of his vision and legacy, and while strides have been made, we still have far to go. It is my hope that enlightened and purposeful brands can help to better share prosperity and create a fairer, more equal and sustainable global community.

I opened this book [We First] by asking the question: Is this the world you want? For the many reasons outlined in its pages, my answer is no. Still, the future has never looked brighter. The challenges we face are enormous, but the opportunity to shape our future has never been greater.

There is no time to waste.

Whether we are corporate executives, entrepreneurs, consumers, concerned citizens, or activists, we must begin working on behalf of our planet and those without power. If we continue to neglect them, their combined impact will permanently harm the Earth and destroy the fabric of our societies. In characterizing the plight of the African American community decades ago, Martin Luther King spoke of “a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Tragically, in today’s global community, that metaphor is still true but it has reversed. Our world is now an ever-shrinking island of extraordinary wealth fortifying itself against a widening ocean of abject poverty and broken dreams.

Yet the shift we seek has begun. Citizen media now competes with media monopolies to tell the story of our future. As more people tell it, the needs and hopes of more people are being reflected. And the stories they tell are being framed around values that unite rather than divide us.

Business is rising to the challenge. Top down, hierarchical, fear-based organizing principles are being superseded by organic, distributed and free-flowing structures. Leading-edge companies are integrating values into their business strategies and embracing their role as enduring custodians of community and planetary well being. Billionaires and corporate leaders are willingly following the example of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg, whose personal successes feed their public generosity.

Slowly, the false separation between economic and moral values is dissolving. As it does, the measure of success is shifting from the gross domestic production of a single country to global human well being.

The great hope for business is to commit to the business of hope.

Technological change is accelerating this shift on two levels – speed and scale. Both must be enlisted if we are to collapse the time it takes to build a better world. The merger of mobile, social and gaming technology portends even greater transformative opportunities that leverage both the real and virtual worlds.

Still, the world we want will not be built by fiber optics, cell phone towers or social media platforms. It will be created choice by choice, in our hearts and minds, and with our hands. That desire for a better world is innately contagious. As Jonathan Haidt explains in The Happiness Hypothesis: “The emotions that promote the meaningful life are powerfully contagious, which increases their chance for propagation, and their encoding into our nervous systems and their ritualization into cultural practice.” New studies by behavioral economists draw the same conclusions. As one of the leading economists studying altruism, Professor Herbert Gintis, states: “It is increasingly obvious that people are motivated by morality; people are motivated by ethics. We may be seeing a possible renaissance of economic theory.”

Given this, the most critical role that social technology plays is to compound this contagious quality and quicken the half-life of change even further. To enable this generation to serve as an example for others in the future, such that we are effectively creating a self-perpetuating, generational cycle of responsibility. The gift we each give our children is the world we leave behind.

Whether or not we realize this potential depends on our choices as individuals. It is our personal responsibility to manage our thinking, behavior and lives so that we bring our best selves to what we want to achieve. Every daily choice, task and commitment represents a chance to shape our future and add meaning to our lives.

We are the ones to build the world we want. Let’s put each other first.