5 Life Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King
January 14, 2011
There is probably no other American figure that epitomizes the qualities of leadership and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds more than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As we celebrate his life on the day set aside to honor him, let’s look back at some of the most important events in his life. From them, there are plenty of lessons we can apply in our own lives – both personal and professional.
#1: Knowing What’s Possible Comes From Asking “Why Not?”
It’s easy to see archival footage of Dr. King’s stirring speeches or the stark black and white images of him in thought and forget that no man is born wise and with all the answers. In reality, Dr. King used his many interactions and experiences with people from all different walks of life to inform his worldview.
Prior to entering Morehouse College in 1944, the then 15-year-old King left the South for the first time to work on a tobacco farm in Connecticut. This experience proved revelatory, and he noted in letters to his parents that he never knew that “… a person of my race could eat anywhere.” By being exposed to different ways of living, his perspective that segregation was something more than just an annoying fact of life was forever changed. The experience would stay with him through his schooling and ultimately influence his decision to enter the struggle for civil rights.
Beyond seeking out different ways of living, Dr. King stretched his perspective by searching out answers from other people who had been engaged in similar struggles. After studying the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi during Seminary, and well after his successful role in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Dr. King traveled to India to learn even more about the practice and techniques of non-violent social change.
What can we learn from this? The answers to our problems are often only available after we learn from others – other people, other cultures, other places – what the right question is. Dr. King exemplified the benefit of always pushing past what is to what could be.