I think about him pretty much every day. Yes, seriously.
I think about the man he was and I think about the man he continually strived to be. A man greater than most, yet still deeply flawed. I think of him as a beacon, illuminating the best in us… always reminding us of the depths of our own human self-potential and to live with what he called ‘the urgency of now.’
MLK Jr. would often point to Gandhi as this illuminating beacon in his own life. Yet, as far as I can tell, it wasn’t just because of Gandhi’s staunch advocacy of non-violence and passive resistance, but rather the sheer fact that Gandhi lived every single day with the strength and force of his ideals creating the world he envisioned by literally being that change. These ideals weren’t something he just talked or wrote about. Gandhi lived it with little care towards money or fear of death. Qualities certainly apparent in MLK Jr.’s actions.
However, as I look back on these noble qualities, I can’t help but think that this still isn’t the take away. That this still isn’t the main lesson for us in our modern day lives.
It is something more subtle and perhaps more useful. It is the fact that beyond all their amazing accomplishments, their unparallel intellect and vast education they didn’t pretend to know everything with over zealous confidence. Instead, they were constantly opening themselves to new ideas and trying to understand other people and the universe around them. The quickest example of this is to just read the title of Gandhi’s autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” or the influence of Buddhist and Jewish scholars on MLK Jr.’s thoughts and actions.
And while both leaders surly got upset or frustrated along the way, it was rare to see or hear about any deep anger or contempt they held. A quality that not only made their personal lives that much richer, but a quality that I believe helped them be that much more successful in achieving their goals.
So, today I don’t look back at MLK Jr. or Gandhi as historical figures, but as real people like you and I, constantly learning… making human mistakes big and small. The only difference? They didn’t separate themselves from their ideals. Their Job was to live by those ideals. The means and the ends were nearly always the same.
And while I don’t dare compare myself to these men… I certainly strive in their general direction. I have dedicated my life to learning, helping, teaching, enjoying and just doing what I can to better the world around me. Not because I should or because it’s the “right” thing to do, but because I believe it is in my best interest. And perhaps more simply, because there is nothing I would rather do or could probably stand to do.
Towards this end, I have certainly fallen… over and over again… but hopefully I, and we all can and will rise up one more time creating the reality we want by the sheer force of our will powered by the conviction that we want the best of all worlds here, for ourselves and for others.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”-MLK Jr.
Finally, I would be remiss to leave out a quick mention of his very last endeavor. Beyond working tirelessly to end racial injustice, the war in Vietnam among a wide range of human rights issues…, the day before he was shot he gave one of the greatest speeches in history while fighting for Workers Rights in Memphis...
“That's the question before you tonight. Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?’ The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That's the question.” –MLK Jr.