That’s what I think of as we celebrate Martin Luther King today.
His life of sacrifice. His dedication to civil rights and his life long commitment to the struggle for equality–not just for African Americans–but for all Americans. It’s what made him so well loved and hated (by some) in his time.
Yet, this idea of sacrifice is often thought of in such lofty terms that we don’t consider King’s humble beginnings. We don’t think of the small churches where he organized, the small following he began with and the many naysayers he had who criticized his methods. In hindsight, King is a hero, in retrospect we hail him “King” with little thought for the cost of his kind of sacrifice.
But, hindsight is a funny thing. They say it’s 20/20, yet looking back tends to bend the prism of our perspective on how change happens. Thinking back on the marches and protests, petitions and progress of King and other leaders, we assume it all just happened as smoothly as turning the pages of our history books.
Thus, when we set out to make change we expect the same smooth strides from what is to what should be. We demand it, in fact, and become angry when it does not happen as quickly as we expect. We lament the “good ‘ol days” and bemoan the loss of “good ‘ol” leaders, like King, who can rally the people towards the goals we’ve set. Obviously, hindsight is not 20/20. Nostalgia blinds us to the reality that change is never easy, rarely smooth and always requires sacrifice.
Sacrifice isn’t sexy.
Those who sacrifice have to give up something–they have to determine that one thing is worth losing in order to gain the other. The problem comes when what is sacrificed is of greater value than what is gained. King was willing to put his life on the line for the sake of an entire nation of people. His life was certainly valuable, but his legacy has meant a better life for millions. You don’t see many like him these days. In this generation, it seems people are more concerned with their legacy first. Everyone wants to be a leader, but no one wants to be a servant. Sacrifce? We would rather be served! “Butler, bring in the silver tray!”
We look to leaders in our communities to inspire us, but what made them leaders? Did they possess some special powers? Was Martin Luther King superhuman? No. He was a simple man who had a simple beginning and made a simple–not easy–choice that you and I can also make: to do what matters, to value what is important, to put the needs of others first.
While we like to look at the end result, we should not forget how it all began and where each of us can begin–right where we are. It’s not about the legacy, it’s about the daily living. Each one of us can make a difference, but we need to do two things: (1) shift our focus away from how we think things used to be and (2) stop looking for an “ideal” leader to bring about a change that we ourselves are capable of creating.
The question is, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to obtain the future we wish for? How you respond to this may be in terms of where we are socially, politically or personally. The basic principle is the same.