What is the state of MLK’s “World House” in 2020?

This past MLK weekend, I was in Atlanta and had the opportunity to visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. While there, I saw some of his speeches, including familiar “I have a dream” speech. Less familiar to me was MLK’s “The World House” speech.


If you have never read this speech, I suggest you check it out here. This speech was given on 12/11/64 in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize given at the University of Oslo, and MLK considered it one of his most important works.


In this speech he calls upon the world to achieve 4 goals:

1) transcend tribe, race, class, nation, and religion; embrace the vision of a “World House”

2) eradicate the Triple Evils of racism, poverty, and militarism

3) curb excessive materialism and move away from a “thing”-oriented society to a “people”-oriented society

4) resist social injustice and resolve conflicts in spirit of love and nonviolence


As I read the speech, it struck me that this was written over 50 years ago. How far have we come in making “The World House” a reality?


Today, our communication truly allows us to come together and live in a World House. If you have traveled recently, you will see that US airports are filled with representatives from all over the world, and Americans of every possible variation. However, our communication also drives us apart. Data algorithms feed us what is familiar, allowing us to find our tribe, and enhance the differences between tribes.


I think we have to keep in mind that the World House is an overwhelming place. For the first time in human history, we surrounded by so many different people. Perhaps it is not surprising that we choose tribes – much easier for our brains to grasp. Dunbar’s number tells us that most people can only focus on 150 meaningful relationships at any given time.


In some ways, MLK’s speech sounds as if it could be written in 2020; we still struggle with these concepts. He ends with an emotional plea which feels so relevant to me “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” It is too easy to retreat into our safe, insular tribes, surrounded by comforting technology and convenience; to hide from this fierce urgency. I hope that in 2020 we emerge from our cocoon to re-examine MLK’s World House.

Dr Jennie Byrne © All Rights Reserved