The Habits of Societies: The Power of Habit, Part 3a

In Part 1a, we had an introduction Duhigg’s book on habits. In Part 1b, we looked at some of the highlights and the key points from the first section (on individuals) of the book. In yesterday’s post, we looked some of the stories that Duhigg shared in the second section about Michael Phelps, Alcoa, Starbucks, and the Rhode Island Hospital.  In today’s post, we’ll look at the last section of the book on societies.

Because of my sense that I’m meant to be a leader of a very large organization, I was particularly excited to get to the section on societies. It certainly did not disappoint. There were only two chapters in this section. The first chapter talked about movements: the civil rights movement in the 1960s and Rick Warren. With regard to the civil rights movement, Duhigg tells the story of how we came to know Rosa Parks. I was shocked to learn that Parks wasn’t the only (nor was she the first!) black person to take a stand (metaphorically) against the injustice in the South. In fact, there had been others like her who tried to remain in their seats on the bus, but no movements formed after their decision to remain steadfast.

Part of the reason that Parks created such a stir was because of how connected she was to her community. When people learned that Parks had been arrested, people wanted to help. Simply wanting to help wasn’t enough. As we learn, all of this willingness to help had to be funneled into a new activity: civil disobedience. There’s a particular powerful passage that I want to share. In my reading of the passage, it makes me think that this was one of the important turning points of civil rights movement:

As the bus boycott expanded from a few days into a week, and then a month, and then two months, the commitment of the Montgomery’s black community began to wane.

The police commissioner, citing an ordinance that required taxicabs to charge a minimum fare, threatened to arrest cabbies who drove blacks to work at a discount. The boycott’s leaders responded by signing up two hundred volunteers to participate in a carpool. Police started issuing tickets and harassing people at carpool meeting spots. Drivers began dropping out. “It became more and more difficult to catch a ride,” King later wrote. “Complaints began to rise. From early morning to late at night my telephone rang and my doorbell was seldom silent. I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue the struggle.”

One night, while King was preaching at his church, an usher ran up with an urgent message. A bomb had exploded at King’s house while his wife and infant daughter were inside. King rushed home and was greeted by a crowd of several hundred blacks as well as the mayor and the chief of police. His family had not been injured, but the front windows of his home were shattered and there was a crater in his porch. If anyone had been in the front rooms of the house when the bomb went off, they could have been killed.

As King surveyed the damage, more and more blacks arrived. Policemen started telling the crowds to disperse. Someone shoved a cop. A bottle flew through the air. One of the policemen swung a baton. The police chief, who months earlier had publicly declared his support for the racist White Citizen’s Council, pulled King aside and asked him to do something — anything — to stop a riot from breaking out.

King walked to his porch.

“Don’t do anything panicky,” he shouted to the crowd. “Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

The crowd grew still.

“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” King said. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.'”

“We must meet hate with love,” King [said].

Powerful.

The parts about Rick Warren were equally powerful, but when contrasted with the life/death matters of the civil rights movement, it’s hard to see it in the same light.

Because I’ve shared an excerpt from this book about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, I thought it best to talk about the last chapter of the section in a different post. Look for it tomorrow.

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3 responses to “The Habits of Societies: The Power of Habit, Part 3a

  1. Pingback: The Habits of Societies: The Power of Habit, Part 3b | Jeremiah Stanghini

  2. Pingback: How Do You Know When You’re “Right” to be in the Minority? | Jeremiah Stanghini

  3. Pingback: How Do You Know When You’re “Right” to be in the Minority? | Total Web Design

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