Holly Richardson: Truths we can learn from Martin Luther King

People gather for events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

This weekend I thought it appropriate to revisit some of the truths we can learn from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The reminder certainly is needed.

Truth #1 is that all people are created equal. Full stop. It doesn’t (it shouldn’t) matter what color your skin is, your gender or what political party you belong to (or don’t). It shouldn’t matter if your religious symbol is a yarmulke, LDS temple garments, a CTR ring, a prayer rug, a cross or rosary beads — or nothing at all. We should all be judged on the “content of our character.”

Truth #2 is that honesty is crucial. King showed us that speaking the truth, without varnish, is the way of a true leader. An awful lot of people did not want to hear what King had to say. He said them anyway. King knew that leaders face reality, don’t sugar-coat it, don’t make excuses and ask don’t embellish, exaggerate or create a new reality out of whole cloth.

One of my favorite quotes from MLK touches on that very thing: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Don’t be afraid to speak up and keep speaking up, for as long as it takes.

Truth #3 is that leaders have a vision of where we need to go and and how to get there. King was able to inspire people by his dreams of what this nation could be because he knew how to engage their hearts. He knew that logic may engage the mind, but people with engaged hearts move mountains.

Truth #4 is that there is never a need to wallow in the mud. King never stopped exhorting his supporters to conduct their struggle “on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” He knew that leaders don’t have to resort to dirty or childish tactics. Good leaders don’t skirt the edges of the unethical and immoral, nor do they resort to hateful, violent tactics. King admonished his followers:

“There is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must ever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

Truth #5 is that great leaders have empathy and love for their followers. Perhaps the most important leadership lesson from King is never making the mistake of thinking it’s all about you. King acknowledged the many sacrifices his followers were making in his “I have a dream” speech.

“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations …You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

He also encouraged them to never give up: “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means keep moving.

Truth #6 is that you cannot beat darkness with more darkness. He said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Truth #7 is that everyone can make a difference. My very favorite quote from King is this one: “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

This weekend, let’s get out there and serve in a way that would make King proud.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is grateful for Martin Luther King and his vision for a country where all are truly equal. She hopes she will live to see that vision fulfilled.