Monday, January 20, 2014

Can MLK still change your life?

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

MLK was born and gone before I came into this world, but I am thankful that he has a legacy that transcends death and impacts generations. I feel tiny when I think about my courage compared to his. I'll admit my biggest struggle these days involves the faith described in the above quote. When I think about MLK and how he so obviously knew that his days were numbered, it puts his faith in proper perspective. While we are all the masters of our own destiny and can make decisions that propel our lives forward, the consequences are often a giant question mark. We don't always know what's coming around the corner, but that shouldn't stop us from pursuing whatever personal cause we are championing. It may not be something as grand as the Civil Rights Movement. It could be our own pursuit of happiness. Maybe it is a large relationship-change. Perhaps it is a scary career move. MLK asked hard questions, attacked the human conscience, stood in front of masses and presented challenges...and he knew the consequences could be fatal. If I could muster a small fraction of that faith, I might achieve the level of happiness I am convinced is ahead of me.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy."

Let's be honest, we don't experience a lot of personal growth when things are going swimmingly. We tend to ride life's waves without regard to the fact that a crash or two is inevitable. We don't always know when those crashes are going to come or what form they might take, but how we handle one can inform how we absorb the shock of the others. MLK had a different context when he wrote this quote, but its power rests in the fact that it is always true. I'm not asking myself hard questions when I am comfortable; rather, I learn the most about myself when I lean into the challenges of life. I learn about the strength I have...or lack. Let's face it - I could walk numbly through life and avoid tough decisions out of fear. There wouldn't be any outward conflict or drama, but the damage that could occur internally is still damage. We cannot avoid challenge and controversy in our lives because it is the best breeding ground for positive change. It couldn't have been easy for MLK constantly to be challenging the status quo, the power-structure, and the laws on the books. But, my goodness, what if he didn't? What if we didn't see the words "challenge" or "controversy" as negatives? What if they were opportunities to expose greater levels of character, happiness, or courage? That simple shift in perspective may make all the difference in how we handle adversity. 

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run the walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

Progress is an attractive idea, isn't it? Here's a word cloaked in positivity. This quote is so comforting because it reminds me that while we cannot hide from the future, we can pick our pace. We can dive in no-holds-barred or dip a toe in the water. Regardless of the pace we choose, the future will happen. Progress will occur. What if it's not the scary thing you have built up in your head? What if it is beautiful? Racial issues in the United States are far from resolved, but there has been marked progress since the days of MLK. I bet some people were scared for what that change might look like, but can't we agree the progress is beautiful? I read in history books about segregated schools, but I grew up in schools alongside many races of people. Why? Progress. It didn't happen overnight or without unfathomable sacrifice, but progress happens. If you are frustrated with the pace of it, do something about it. You can impede progress. You can stifle progress. You can propel progress forward. The point is, we play an active role in our personal and societal progress. What is that role going to be? 

No, this post isn't a traditional recount of MLK's instrumental role in the Civil Rights Movement - though I encourage you to read up on that if you feel so inclined. This post is designed to expose that the quotes that are distilled out of true leadership transcend context. Today, I am choosing to honor MLK not only for his contributions to race relations and justice, but for his ability to challenge people on a personal level and encourage growth and inner strength. 

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