From the Outside

This is a day late from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but procrastination and lateness goes along with the subject, so maybe it’s actually timely…

I am always impressed by movers-and-shakers.  You know those people who seem to be able to leap out of bed in the morning, eat their healthy bowl of oatmeal, swig down their coffee, and go out the door with a marching band behind them.  The ones who defy reality and all its problems and always seem to have a solution for everything.

That’s not me. I’m usually more like this…

And we all know this is closer to reality for most of us, but some of us have found the ability to overcome what we often feel as humans: exhaustion, apathy, hesitation, fear.  So how does it happen?  How do those seemingly chosen few find the strength when the rest of us don’t or can’t?

Perhaps because it’s not found….it’s given….

Not too long ago, I read a book by Adam Grant called Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World.  The book includes many examples of leaders and world-changers coming from non-traditionalist viewpoints and circumstances, one of them being the experience that many in history have reached their success and fame not solely through their own gumption and grit, but from the encouragement and push of others.

One example Grant gives is of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In his first chapter, Grant writes about those who go against the grain of convention.  History often paints these individuals in lights of fame and inspiration, but in looking closer at many of these people’s stories (he also references George Washington, Michelangelo, and Steve Wozniak), he reveals that these famous leaders and world-changers did not do what they are famous for because of their own fiery spirit or innovation–it is because others encouraged and/or pushed them into their role.  In reference to MLK, Grant writes:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was apprehensive about leading the civil rights movement; his dream was to be a pastor and a college president.  In 1955, after Rosa Parks was tried for refusing to give up her seat at the front of a bus, a group…agreed to form the Montgomery Improvement Association and launch a bus boycott, and one of the attendees nominated King for the presidency.  “It had happened so quickly that I did not even have time to think it through.  It is probable that if I had, I would have declined the nomination….I became possessed by fear.”  King would overcome that trepidation soon enough that in 1963 his thundering voice united a country around an electrifying vision of freedom.  But that only happened because a colleague proposed that King should be the closing speaker at the March on Washington and gathered a coalition of leaders to advocate for him.

Grant writes that Dr. King was brave and inspiring, but it was also due to others believing in him, and not only his own strength and wisdom.  On this post-Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it can be easy to post quotes and profess that we remember, all the while not really knowing how we ourselves can make an impact–ANY impact, and certainly one like his–and if we do, having the strength to carry it out.  But while these individuals may seem superhuman in our eyes and the eyes of history, I don’t believe any of them would tell us that we were any less able to make an impact on the world around us.

Sometimes we just need someone to remind us that they believe in us, and that we can do it.

When was the last time someone told you they believed in you….that you can accomplish great things….?  When was the last time you told someone else….?

Many know that MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech actually never had that phrase written into it.  As Grant continues reflecting on Dr. King:

King’s favorite gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, shouted from behind him, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!”  He continued with his script, and she encouraged him again.  Before a live crowd of 250,000, and millions more watching on TV, King improvised, pushing his notes aside and launching into his inspiring vision of the future.  “In front of all those people, cameras, and microphones,” Clarence Jones reflects, “Martin winged it.”

There is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a very talented speaker, or that he spent countless hours in practice, or that it took him years of speaking before audiences to hone his gift; but it is also true that though he is a legend, he was still human.  And humans tire, they fear, they crawl out of bed, their kids throw tantrums, they have doubts, and they feel like giving up.

In those times we feel like giving up, like we don’t have what it takes, when we feel like we can’t accomplish anything, that is when we need to listen to that voice: “Tell ’em about the dream!”

Go tell them.

I believe in you.


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