Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently returned to the theme of embracing “maladjustment,” refusing to be comfortable in an unjust world and insisting on action to achieve the beloved community. The excerpt below is from a 1958 Christian publication in which Dr. King, as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, reiterates this theme while reflecting on the race relations crisis.
“Psychologists have a word that is probably used more frequently than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word ‘maladjusted.’ In a sense all of us must live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the inequalities of an economic system which takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence.
It may be that the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. The challenge to us is to be maladjusted—as maladjusted as Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let judgment run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream;’ as maladjusted as Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out in words lifting to cosmic proportions, ‘All men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness;’ as maladjusted as Jesus who could say to the men and women of his generation, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.’
The world is in desperate need of such maladjustment. Through such courageous maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”
Excerpted from “The Current Crisis in Race Relations,” written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and published in New South (March 1958: 8-12).