This is being published on the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. I have a poster of Dr. King in my home office and as I sat down trying to come up with a topic to post for the week, I looked up at him, as I often do. I started to think that surely I am supposed to learn something or feel something other than sadness at his tragic death.
As I reflected on his life and legacy, I started to realize that even though I am not a religious person, there are many lessons that I have learned about being a better person, being who you are, and knowing what you believe in. Here are some of the things he has taught me.
Always be civil. Even in times of darkness, violence and ugliness, he believed in and practiced civil discourse. That’s not to say that he was never angered or even inflamed by what he faced, but in spite of those feelings, he rose above the ugliness he was confronted with. He spoke articulately yet strongly, but he was still always civil.
Peace and non-violence is always better. This was the basic tenet of King’s philosophy. He wrote reams about it, spoke about it, and lived it, even in the face of hostility, aggression, and the ugly violence that ultimately took his life. I cannot imagine the hate and hostility that he faced on a daily basis, and am in awe that it did not turn him into someone even more hateful than those who perpetrated such ugliness against him. It reminds me that I can be less petty and less harsh with those who I might not agree with.
You can always do the right thing. There are so many of his quotes where he talks about this. Whether it is helping others who are less fortunate, or taking a stand against something that is just plain wrong, he reminds us all that it is always time to do what is right.
Always help others. This is related to his philosophy about doing the right thing and about a being a good person. But it goes beyond this. He spoke often about having true compassion. It isn’t enough to help those in need, but we must truly care about them, to take a good look and see how they got that way. He asked us to examine how we as a society can change the conditions that led them to be there in the first place. Doing this makes us better as people. I have found that it also makes me feel better.
Never give up on your dreams. While his life was cut tragically short, he died in pursuit of his dream and in spite of everything he faced, he never gave up on it. He faced obstacles I could never imagine having to face, and still persisted. This reminds me that the small things in my life that often seem insurmountable, are just my excuses for not taking action and are not obstacles. In reality, I am the only obstacle to my own dreams.