As the annual celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday approached, Texas Congressman Ron Paul directed a spotlight on King, pointing to him as a vibrant and admirable role model for achieving positive societal change. If there were more “kings” like King, the world could be a much better place.
Candidate Paul referenced key points in Dr. King’s approach as a blueprint for how to live life individually and collectively, grounded in:
In a sense, Congressman Paul was echoing the perspective of Abraham Lincoln, who espoused that: “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need done, but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well for themselves.”
The prevailing times, and behavior of many, brings to mind the poignant words of Dr. King:
“There Is Nothing Wrong with Power If Power Is Used Correctly.”
So often, we look to our elected “leaders” to carry the torch and light the flame of progress in these respects. Yet, too often, they fail us.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not ask us to sit idly by and wait for leaders to do the right thing. Instead, he has inspired legions of individuals over generations to act individually and collectively for the greater good. We have learned time and again, that with inspired action, “We Shall Overcome.”
Every individual and leader has encountered tremendous challenges while they have lived life aspiring to contribute to positive societal change. As you consider your own place in progress, take solace in knowing that, as Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith recounts:
“Every mystic, sage, or awakened master whose autobiography or biography I have read has experienced the dark night of the soul,” yet they have taken stock, and continued on the positive path. Take inspiration from that, and consider the following experiences from people who were not “famous leaders,” yet lived with purpose, and as a result, led by example, even if they never realized they were being seen as leaders.
An 82 year-old Republican from California, who had never voted outside of the party, voted to elect Barack Obama as President of the United States. Why? Because that person saw someone who was highly capable, intelligent, inclusive, and opted to talk with people, rather than at them.
A 103 year-old woman from Texas voted to elect Barack Obama. In doing so she said: “This is probably the last election that I will have the opportunity to vote in, however, it is the most important election in my lifetime.”
She lived to see Barack Obama elected, and died two weeks later, just four days short of her 104th birthday. In her lifetime, she had seen and directly experienced monumental societal injustices, and awe-inspiring actions for the greater good. As a woman, she had to wait, but ultimately was granted the right to vote. As a student at a women’s college in Boston, she observed racist and anti-Semitic policies first-hand. African American students were not allowed to live on campus, and Jews were often discriminated against in classes. Several years later, she helped establish the library at Brandeis University in Boston – one that was devoted to tolerance and inclusiveness. She embraced the exhortation of another Bostonian, John F. Kennedy, who suggested: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Dobie Gray was born July 26, 1940, in Simonton, Texas, into a family of sharecroppers. He did not grow up with many “advantages.” He did, however, love music, and lived to create it. After making his way to California in the early 1960s, Gray got a break and appeared in a Los Angeles production of the musical “Hair.” He recorded his first chart hit, “Look at Me,” after a chance meeting with Sonny Bono, an executive at Specialty Records. The hits just kept on coming. Gray’s music was performed by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Etta James, Johnny Mathis, and John Denver. He toured Europe, Australia, and Africa. In South Africa, during Apartheid, Gray insisted on performing before integrated audiences.
In 1991, Apartheid was repealed. In 1993, a multiracial, multiparty transitional government was installed. The first nationwide “free” elections were held in 1994. The African National Congress won the majority of representative seats, underscoring the power of freedom, and making history.
Dobie Gray has continued to contribute to positive social change, even following his death. In 2011 at the age of 71, he willed a significant portion of his property and future earnings to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. He never had the opportunity to have children of his own.
Throughout history, individuals have chosen to acknowledge adverse conditions, and in their own way, strive, and lead by example to initiate positive social change. At times, collective action has had profound consequences as well.
Consider the “Arab Spring of 2011,” and the profound democratic transformations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. Are Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, North Korea, and potentially Iran, next? These seemingly miraculous transformations have been sparked by the actions of individuals, and when accumulated collectively, have changed their worlds for the better, as well as the world around them. However, as we have seen time and again, change does not always come easily, nor is it necessarily lasting….
In 2008, millions of people crossed party lines to elect Barack Obama President of the United States. Unfortunately, the fatal flaw of human behavior that came next was the death knell sadly known as complacency.
Merriam Webster defines complacency as: “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.”
The President-Elect made an unfortunate miscalculation. Either he relied primarily on advisors and aides to maintain the unprecedented coalition of Independents, Democrats, and Republicans who had elected him; or he did not realize the critical importance of keeping intact the “coalition of America” who had come together in an unprecedented manner, fortified and inspired by the promise of peace, hope, and change. This “army of citizens” devoted to working for positive change was left in a hold position immediately following the election. The vibrant momentum of their force was never regained. This vibrant “flight for change” ran out of fuel while waiting for orders to land.
In either case, this proved to be a fatal mistake for the United States, with adverse consequences that have reverberated worldwide.
But Really, When Our Leaders “Fail” Us, Why Do We Accept Failure?
While members of Congress and other international leaders can dig in their heels and dwell in inaction – with catastrophic consequences for their constituents and others throughout the world – we as individuals could never even seriously consider behaving the same way. To do so would mean loss of our jobs, homes, vehicles, etc…and the list goes on. Of course, that is happening to many of us anyway because we don’t live in bubbles where we are insulated from all of the other conditions around us.
How do we avoid the perpetuation of this “Lord of the Flies” mentality that seems to drive our “leaders” to further destruction? They seem to be in this perpetual game of “Survivor” to see who they can applaud next getting “voted off the island” of their respective elected or self-anointed governing bodies around the world. Meanwhile, who really wins? As we observe this macabre “reality show”, don’t we tire, and ask ourselves, “What next? How do I not only survive this, but thrive in spite of it?!”
Historically, there have been, and will continue to be, significant challenges along the paths of our individual lives and those in the world we inhabit together. In this current “Great [Worldwide] Recession” businesses are collapsing, infrastructures are crumbling and millions of people are losing their jobs and their homes.
Our “leaders” seem befuddled at best, self-absorbed, vindictive, and of dubious values and commensurate actions at their worst. As another famous quote reminds us:
“If You’re Going through Hell, Keep Going.”
It is time for an individual and collective “Call to Conscience – There Is Nothing Wrong with Power If Power Is Used Correctly.” Let’s use our power, and use it well. Consider your options, and answer the question: “Will you Expand or Contract (?)!” Make a choice.
Leslie Gainer is the Publisher I Editor-In-Chief of Expand or Contract (?)!
She is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law – specializing in public policy. Leslie has worked on civil rights cases, and co-authored federal consumer protection legislation in Washington D.C. related to the banking and financial services industries. She also co-created successful campaigns to ensure their passage into law.
Leslie participated in launching impactful environmental protection programs: the Recycling and Waste Reduction Program for the City of Los Angeles; and the Offshore Oil and Coastal Protection Program for the American Oceans Campaign, which was founded by Ted Danson.
After all this, it was time for a good drink. Opting for the healthiest choice – she joined the California wine industry where she worked with wineries and created her own business “Fermentations,” which she trademarked and sold after 13 years.
Not one to be complacent, she continued to observe and participate in positive social change, whenever possible. The past decade or so has been a time of often inspiring but sometimes potentially soul-destroying world events. Opting to be a part of the movement to live and act in the positive, with those who choose to inspire and inform – on Dec. 31st, 2011, Expand or Contract (?)! experienced it’s “EorC Spring” to provide a forum for an International Community committed to positive change.