DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
Originally published January 15, 2015.
Getting rich is simple; save more money than you spend.
Getting fit is simple; eat less and work out more.
Being happy is simple; just avoid pain and seek out pleasure.
So many things in life can be boiled down to simple formula of inputs and outputs. And it’s true; these formulas are simple, and people blithely wield them as evidence of moral failing or a weak backbone. “Of course you can lose weight,” they say, “it’s simple. Just eat less.” And yet we remain a population overweight, overburdened with debt, supporting huge markets for self-help guidance and prescription anti-depressants. The formulas for wealth and health and happiness are simple; this does not mean that executing these formulas is easy. Because we all bring a lifetime of experience to every moment of every day, a collection of triumphs and traumas and scars and glories. Confidences and fears. Certainty and doubt. And depending on our state of mind, no amount of simplification can make a formula easy enough to complete, or no hurdle is high enough to stop us. My wife and I often discuss why I allow certain people to walk all over me during personal or business interactions. After all, the formula is simple: when being bullied or disregarded, simply standing up for your rights and your boundaries will almost always stop the process. And yet I never seem to. Because as simple as it is to just say the word “stop”, it’s not that easy. Somewhere within me is a belief that I deserve to be treated poorly; it’s a belief that overpowers any logical process, or even any desire. No matter how much we dream of a pain-free life, somewhere in us is the belief that we have to carry a burning ember in our closed fist, and no matter how simple we make the instructions (“Just open your hand.”), we continue to serve the original belief. It’s a limiting (and limited) existence, but it’s also very, very common. Holding onto detrimental beliefs is like walking in a well-worn rut, yet great things can happen when we escape it.
Americans love our icons. And so we iconize the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and replays of the “I Have a Dream”. Iconography is nice for putting a fine point on something complex, but it all but ignores the thousands of others who played critical roles in the civil rights movement. But more importantly, it enshrines the icon at the peak of their effect. When we think of Dr. King, we think of the March on Washington. We think of “I Have a Dream”. We think of Montgomery and the Nobel Prize. We think of Martin Luther King, Jr. breaking down barriers with non-violence, eloquence, passion, and compassion. We don’t think of him as terrified. We don’t see him in moments of powerlessness. Icons don’t weep for themselves, and so we ignore the deep valleys of depression that King suffered. As an icon, King was like Gandhi, walking directly into the fray with no concern for the consequences. But as a man, King required spiritual and political counsel to nudge him towards many of these actions.
- MLKOnline.net, an online resource of Dr. King’s speeches and texts
- Text of Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change