Sunday, November 26, 2006

Martin Luther King on Humility

I have always believed humility is the greatest quality of great leaders.

I recently came across this piece. It was written by Martin Luther King Junior before he was brutally murdered in 1968.

I can remember his assassination very well and I can hardly believe is it nearly 40 years ago the world lost one of its greatest leaders. The following words of Dr King sum up perfectly everything I believe about humility.

"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral.

And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain."


Dick Field said...

Why do we remember Dr. King with such respect and admiration? I suspect it is because of the grand and noble way he carried his selflessness - and ultimately his self sacrifice. Through sheer force of will and the power of the example he set, Americans of every color could not help but take notice, learn something, and change their behavior accordingly. Where, or where, can we find such inspiration today among our leaders? Selflessness as practiced by Dr. King is a rare commodity indeed.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dick – insightful and powerful comments and great questions. I like your reference to ‘selflessness’ - that is a wonderful word.

We both know there are millions of selfless people doing fantastic work every day in every location in every part of the world – these of course are just ordinary people.

I agree with you that it is difficult to identify even one world leader for an example of selflessness. There just do not appear many people around today with the charisma that Dr King had. Mother Theresa was the last great selfless person I think. Sadly she is no longer with us either.

Maybe you have hit on something very important here Dick – Where are our selfless leaders today?

I don’t know any high profile leader ‘on the world scene’ who’s selflessness would inspire me to change my behaviour.

What an enormous gap that is in our tense, money driven and mixed up world when compared to those inspirational campaigning days of Dr King.

Anonymous said...

Great speech.

To be honest I don't know Dr. King - but after this post I'll find out! Thanks Trevor!

Trevor Gay said...

You are very welcome Dmitry. Dr King was was one of those few individuals in history who genuinely did change the world. I think we desperately need selfless leaders like him in our troubled world in 2006.

Below is an extract from Dr King's famous 1963 'I have a dream' speech 1963. You can read the entire speech at this link;

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

Anonymous said...

Wow Trevor. I needed this today, and there it was - a wonderful reminder of how we really ought to be lving our lives. By giving we truly receive the gift of a "committed life". Thanks, and all the best.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Terry - I guess we all need this sort of reminder regularly. Hope you are keeping well - best wishes from England :-)

Mark Foscoe said...

Well, yes... but.

I don't doubt that Dr. King was great campaigner and that he stood up and was counted on a number of major issues. The bit that grates with me, though, is the bit about Christian duty. So I don't have a duty, as an atheist? Or if I try to do good and be selfless then, as an atheist it's not so meaningful? Or someone sends me a ticket to a club I don't want to belong to?

Whay can't we talk about our human duty to one another? Why does caring for others have to be presented as being in any way a religious act?

And is there not a danger in trying to present this as Christian that you simply stoke up concern amongst other religions that you're trying to claim a) Christianity is the one true way; or b) Christianity has a monopoly on good and selfless acts? I know that's not what's been said, but you have to think about the effect these words have on other cultures.

I agree with everything in the "I had a dream..." speech right through to the evangelical tone at the end. Subsitute "Mankind" for "the Lord" and I'm in 100% agreement.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Mark

I believe Dr King was simply speaking passionately about what he believes in just as, in a democracy, you have the right to speak passionately about what you believe in. Dr King was saying that as Christians we have this duty – he is not making a statement about what others who are not Christians should say or do. You are correct - selflessness is certainly not the sole province of those with a Christian faith. Selfless deeds are carried out every second around the world by people who are non-Christians. Christianity is founded on a set of values and beliefs and Dr King was speaking within that framework. The joy of freedom of speech is that it is equally possible for people of other faiths and non-believers to also have their voice heard. It is for their audience to make up their minds about what set of values they choose to live their life by. I would certainly not advocate ‘brow beating’ people into Christianity – that would not be the true meaning of Christianity. The choice to become a Christian must come from within each individual and the choice not to be a Christian is also an individual one.

Dan said...

I agree - there's a big difference between something that is "characteristically Christian" and something that is "uniquely Christian."

I think it's accurate and fair to interpret comments like Dr. King's as refering to the former, not the latter.

Dick Field said...

Mark: For what it's worth, I consider my philosophical beliefs most closely aligned with Zen Buddhism! That notwithstanding, I still believe Dr. King was a selfless and effective leader. (Selflessness is also a complex Zen tenet which I won't go into here.) I am not put off by his Christianity. I simply understand the context of his life and times. Better that he had some spiritual value conclusion he reached than none - which is a sad lacking today of too much of the community he sought to advance through a pursuit of genuine justice (which is not to be confused with "entitlement").

Felix Gerena said...

Hi Trevor. I think Dr. King's piece is exemplary. There are few things more praise worthy than a sense of compassion and love for others. That is beyond education, work or status.

I would love to have something like that. It is not an easy task. We are naturally shaped to take care of ourselves in the first place.

Thanks for bringing the piece.

Trevor Gay said...

Thank you so much for your comments Dmitry, Terry (Starbucker) Mark, Dan, Dick and Felix.

I guess the best summary is we can be happy that Dr King's legacy is still strong enough to create such intelligent and meaningful exchanges as the one we have had here. The man was inspirational to millions and his words are a very powerful reminder of how we need to celebrate difference.

steve smith said...

Thank you for your thoughts on Dr. King. He was one of my heroes growing up. What a great man with an even greater cause. I thought you might enjoy this quote from Dr. King and William Morley Punshon.

"On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. [Our] lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. "

Somtimes people mistake humility for weakness or not speaking up. My experience is that humility is the genuine confidence to do so.

Anyway, thanks again and your blog looks great.


tomjam said...

Great post Trevor and fantastic quotation Steve-I sometimes feel it is more than ever acceptable to do what is expedient, popular or safe, and doing right takes courage because we will not always be applauded for it. We may even be laughed at or considered weak.

I think deep down, though, most people respect and admire (sometimes even fear) those who act on principle, even if they are scared to admit it to themselves or acknowledge it to the person.

As Felix said, it is harder to do the humble/right thing than it is to speak or think about it. For my part, I fail often to choose what is right over what is expedient, safe or popular, but on those occasions when I do follow my conscience instead, I have more self-respect as a result.

Trevor Gay said...

Steve – thanks - what a fabulous quote – I will use it! Thanks also for your kind comments about the Blog - I hope you will visit Simplicity Blog again and make comment. Sadly I have to agree that humility is seen as weakness by some. My greatest role model (Professor George Giarchi) is the most humble person I have ever known and yet he is regarded as something of a Guru in his field. His modesty and un-pretentiousness is wonderful to behold. Humility is strength as far as I am concerned.

tomjam – astute comments as always my friend. You are not alone – I am pretty sure in reality we all make decisions based on expediency - I certainly do. But the decisions I always feel most comfortable with are those based on what I personally believe is right. Self respect is the highest standard we can hold ourselves to. I have always said I am far more accountable now as a freelance self-employed person than I ever was in a heavily managed environment in the National Health Service. When the person I am accountable to is the person in the mirror the accountability becomes sharper and more meaningful.

It is fabulous that this posting about Dr King has attracted such interest – that surely tells us something about our present leaders!

jenesisleggett said...

I know only that Dr. King was here on a mission. He was someone special.....Someone special to God.