The Legacy and Struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Monday, we will observe the 25th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in the United States. To mark this anniversary, the President and First Lady are calling on Americans to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service "by pledging to take at least 25 actions this year to make a difference for others and strengthen our communities." In The Banality of Heroism (2006-07) by Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo, the authors identified the critical components of the hero's journey. In Dr. King's case, he was an exemplar of each component; he demonstrated his values in order to achieve an ideal (equality for all people), he persevered through threats every day and gave his life as the ultimate sacrifice, he captivated our imaginations through his words and nonviolent resistance, and he publicly sustained this arduous work for more than 12 years.
Nonetheless, as bigger-than-life the legacy of Dr. King may seem, it is in the less public and triumphant times of his life that we can find comfort in our own struggles, and the strength to act on our values. As each generation remembers the stories of its heroes, those once-mortal figures become immortal legends, and their once-real doubts, fears, and humanities are eroded by the sands of time.
On the day of his assassination, Dr. King felt the weight of the world. He was discouraged, he had doubts, and he had trouble sleeping. None of this diminishes his greatness; instead, it may make him the greatest teacher ever on the subject of the hero's journey.
When those of us who are guided by our values contemplate the historic feats of heroes such as Dr. King, we may feel discouraged or intimidated. We may stand in the shadows of those legends, and fear that we may not have the strength to act on our ideals and make a difference.
But, Dr. King may very well have agreed with us, and for that reason, he may be our greatest role model as we strive to act on our values in order to change the world. Despite his own doubts and fears, he summoned the courage and inner strength to carry on, propelled by his faith and values.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and every day forward, let's honor his legacy by acknowledging and confronting our own doubts and fears, so that we may act on our values in order to change the world.