MLK, a pastor, humanitarian, and leader in the 1960s American civil rights movement, famously employed a nonviolent approach in his battle for racial and economic justice. Fifty years after Dr. King’s untimely death at age 39 by the hand of an assassin, his significant impact on our country’s social, racial, and spiritual terrain lives on… and his words are as pertinent today as ever.
This principle could apply to people’s weight, height, gender, age, job, financial status, or other external features. Take stock of what’s on the inside, and never consider yourself (or others) incapable of being useful. Dr. King also stated, “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Maybe being helpful to your family, caring for a pet, making someone laugh, or having the courage and willingness to get out of your comfort zone and grow are your personal goals. You needn’t win an Olympic medal to live a life you deem a success.
Don’t let yourself be discouraged by hurdles or the fear of failure. Moving forward often takes a circuitous course. Sometimes roads are built to accommodate the mountains in their way, which may necessitate a longer journey in terms of miles or time, but the road will eventually get you where you want to go, if you persist. Other times you may need to blast your way through the mountain. Only you can determine the best approach for your current challenge.
Although King was passionate about his cause and faced formidable opponents, he did not confuse the actor with the deed. In other words, although he opposed racial and social inequality, he did not allow himself to be consumed with resentment, knowing that “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
King also recognized that love is not passive nor weak, saying, “We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind with a tender heart.” Love does not mean that we allow ourselves to be trampled upon. On the contrary, love takes a stand.
Instead of becoming paralyzed by uncertainty, just take the next step, based on your values and priorities, which may change, as you progress down the road and learn as you go. Do what you can today, accepting the inevitable uncertainties in life and that things may not go the way you planned.
King was not a stranger to discouragement. He struggled with bouts of devastating depression throughout his life, to the point of attempting suicide twice as a child, and was severely depressed at the end of his life. On other occasions he showed signs of hypomania (mild manic symptoms that frequently enable one to be quite productive and charismatic, albeit impulsive). It has been postulated that King’s depression increased his level of empathy and realism, which emboldened his fight against inequality, while his hypomanic episodes facilitated his visionary abilities. Whatever the case, King suffered to a great extent from his depressive episodes, and yet he pressed forward. He had, as is widely known, a dream. Deep down in his soul, he had his “why”, and this enabled him to find his “how”, even during his darkest moments.
Some days we brim over with enthusiasm and vitality — other days we may be bombarded on every side by obstacles that sap our energy. Accept both the highs and lows, and stay focused on your intention. Have the courage to make each day count. This doesn’t have to involve monumental acts nor be emotionally driven — in fact, on the days when we feel down in the dumps yet forge ahead, we develop an extra dose of self-confidence. As Kind stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Have humility – be willing to put in the time and energy. Sometimes it’s a blessing when we have to work hard for something rather than it falling in our lap or being born with a silver spoon in our mouth. In the first scenario, we learn tenacity, discomfort tolerance, patience, and flexibility.
We can lose focus if we become fixated on what’s shiny and bright – on the spectacle and high drama. What’s important to you may mean nothing to the next person, and vice versa. What gives our lives depth and vitality is finding and following a personally meaningful vision and serving a larger purpose than just our individual desires.
Look for the similarities/commonalities between you and other people, rather than the differences. Look for the things that connect you to others, rather than the things that separate you. Build a bridge rather than a wall.
King delivered an eerily prophetic speech the day before his death, stating, “I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” He was aware that although he was planting seeds, he might not live to see them germinate. He further proclaimed:
You never know whose lives you will touch in the future by the way you live today and the ideals to which you stay true. Keep on keeping on.