Last year was incredibly challenging in the United States and around the world due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In ushering in a new year, Americans can look to the wisdom of some of our greatest leaders to help guide us.
On MLK Day, as our nation honors the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there are lessons we can learn from the civil rights leader and apply to our lives in the present.
Dr. King once said that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” Here’s how you can gain from his wisdom in 2021 and put his words into action this MLK day.
Volunteer your time and talents
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Volunteering amid the coronavirus pandemic may present new challenges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be an active participant in your community! Reach out to local schools to see how you can help teachers in their virtual classrooms, raise money for food banks in your area, or even ask an elderly neighbor if they need help taking care of their yard.
“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
Whether it’s calling an old friend, cooking a special meal for your family, or letting a colleague know that you appreciate working alongside them, there are plenty of ways to spread joy to those around you.
Contact your representatives
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The 2020 election has put a spotlight on just how consequential civic engagement is in our country. Dr. King was a fierce advocate and believer in the power of positive change, even in the face of deep challenges. Is there something in your community that you believe needs to be addressed? Contact your representatives at the local, state, or national level and make sure they know where you stand.
Expand your mind
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
Dr. King is the most well-known American civil rights leader, but he is far from the only one. Learn about exemplary Americans like Congressman John Lewis and activist Dorothy Height, or contact your local library and ask if they have books about the Voting Rights Act to learn about its relevance today.
Be kind to yourself
“Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
2020 knocked a lot of people on their feet, and while in theory, picking yourself up and brushing yourself off is the next step, it’s easier said than done. Pace yourself, and don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. Treat yourself with kindness and remember that everybody moves at their own speed.
Have hope for tomorrow
“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Recent events in the United States have left many feeling disheartened about the country, but even in the face of great injustices, Dr. King believed in the hope of a better tomorrow. While he did not live to see many of the positive changes that he inspired, and there is a lot of work left to be done, his words and his actions can guide our generation to be the change we wish to see in the world.