The Long and Righteous Road


Mark Sherman says that our society is gradually recognizing the full humanity of all of us, even if it sometimes seems like it’s taking forever.


                “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.


The recent death of Nelson Mandela reminded me of something very important, and it is this: While so many things in the world are wrong and unfair, there are people who simply will not let it stay that way. They will do what they can to make the world a more just place. I love that Martin Luther King quote because it helps us keep our eyes on the prize (another wonderful phrase), since what comes before the prize is often extraordinarily painful and difficult. And, as King’s untimely death shows, it can sometimes involve more than pain and difficulties.

There is so much wrong in our world and in our country, but it’s always a good idea to keep King’s words in mind. Because actually, when you think about it, our country has made and is making progress in some very important ways. And among them is that we are headed in the right direction in at least one essential area: the recognition of the humanity, value, and dignity of every human being.

I know that for anyone in a group that has not been treated justly, the length of that arc may sometimes seem simply too long to bear. But in my lifetime I have watched amazing changes for the good. That young people today may be incredulous at the way things were, even 50 or 60 years ago, shows how far we have come.

I remember when the academic department to which I belonged was all male – this was in 1972 – and we began to talk about hiring a woman. There was actually controversy over this (and I am happy to say that I was one of the pro- people). Someone said, “But the man is the breadwinner in the household.” Another said, “We’ll have to start watching our language in department meetings.

But within a year or two, we had hired our first woman, and by now the department is more than 50 percent female. (And watching our mouths was never a problem; the language of the women in the department was often just as salty as that of the men.)

Women have perhaps been the most successful group to convince us that each individual member of a group is deserving of as much opportunity and respect as anyone. It has been a harder fight for African-Americans. I know that sexism is still a big problem in our society, but I personally believe that racism is a bigger one.

But it is not a “competition of miseries,” an expression I once heard an African-American woman use on a television discussion years ago. The fact is that sexism still exists and so does racism. But things continue to change for the better. That arc does bend toward justice.

As a straight person, I would never presume to say how life feels for a gay American, but within my lifetime there have been tremendous improvements. Just look at same-sex marriage; this was a dream even 20 years ago, and today it is legal in 18 states.

What has helped move along the full acceptance of gay people is the fact that virtually everyone has someone in their family, someone they love, who is gay. And in such situations, you have two choices. Either you continue to find something wrong with homosexuality, and therefore something wrong with your loved one, or you look at this person you love and you say to yourself, “He (or she) is fine. There’s something wrong with the old way of looking at this.”

Love sure helps that arc move toward justice.

Talking about love and family, my major social concern is America’s boys and young men and the fact that on so many measures they are not doing as well as girls and young women. Even as long ago as January 2006, this was described in a Newsweek cover story as “The Boy Crisis.” True, there are many educators speaking out on this problem and trying to help schools and parents lift boys out of what, for many, is a kind of stagnant state. But it has not really caught on. There are government initiatives in the UK and Australia to try to deal with this same concern, but not here. It seems like it’s taking forever. I, myself, have been writing about it for more than 20 years. But with three sons and four young grandsons, I feel I have no choice but to keep raising people’s awareness of this issue.

And like anyone fighting for something they believe in, I, too, have to remember that while the arc of moral justice is long, it does bend toward justice.

So think about all this, whether for yourself or anyone you love or care about. And try to do what you can to help the arc bend just a little more sharply and with a little more speed. This is a great way to start the new year (or just about any new week).

This is a very slightly revised version of a post which originally appeared on Mark’s Psychology Today blog.

Photo: PixaBay CC-BY License.

About Mark Sherman

Mark Sherman is editor of the Boys Initiative blog (, and also writes one for Psychology Today (Real Men Don’t Write Blogs). He received his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard, and has taught, researched, and written on gender issues since coauthoring Afterplay: A Key to Intimacy in 1979. Having three sons and four grandsons, he is especially interested in how boys and young men are doing both in and outside of school.


  1. This was absolutely wonderful and I fully believe this too.

    Frankly, it becomes frustrating sometimes to try and work with others who are fighting against oppression or for social justice, because a lot of them are impatient with how slow things are. For some, even the smallest sign of progress isn’t good enough.

    The line “But it is not a “competition of miseries,” an expression I once heard an African-American woman use on a television discussion years ago. The fact is that sexism still exists and so does racism. But things continue to change for the better. That arc does bend toward justice.” is a prime example of this. Competition of miseries (or the Oppression Olympics) becomes commonplace, because it seems difficult when one marginalized group sees progress but none or little in others. And if one points out the positive progress that has been made, they are quick to dismiss it and bring the subject back towards the negative.

    In my humble opinion, the constant focus on the negatives while dismissing the positives is causing divisions amongst those who should be working together towards the same fights.

  2. Mark, thank you for this article.
    Lately I’ve become more skeptical and doubtful about human nature. And while I have some good reasons for thinking that way, it makes me easily forget the good and positive.
    Your article reminds me (us) that, in the long run, the world tends to become a better place.
    Thanks for sustaining hope. 🙂

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