Our world is filled with people who have moments of greatness in their lives, but when it gets right down to it, there are very few truly great people in the world. In my opinion, Plato, Gandhi and Mother Teresa come to mind, and certainly Martin Luther King, Jr. must be added to that short list. Here was a man who not only inspired people with the words he spoke, but a man who lived by the words he spoke.
In King’s 1964 Oberlin College quote after he won the Nobel Prize, “The time is always right to do what is right” seems quite appropriate. It seems that even our heroes have difficulty always doing what is right. We look up to celebrities, mentors, athletes, and our politicians fare no better. We hear constantly about corrupt business owners, police officers who abuse their authority, even military leaders caught up in scandals. The list seems endless.
The saddest truth about all of this is that our youth lack the role models they need to chart their own life courses. For many young people you encounter, YOU are their best hope for a positive role model. Don’t take that responsibility lightly. You may be thinking, “but I don’t even have any kids or I’m not around young people very much.” One thing I’ve learned is that children are VERY observant. Even when you think they may not be paying attention, they are looking to you for guidance and inspiration. That means the time is always right to do what is right. It’s always right to hold the door open for someone. It’s always right to pick up a piece of trash, whether it’s your trash or not. It’s always right to treat others with respect, whether they return that respect to you or not.
Personal accountability comes into play and that’s really what Dr. King’s quote is all about – personal accountability. It’s a matter of character, and I guess for me, that’s what truly made Dr. King a great leader. He was a man of great character.
When it comes to doing the right thing, I’m always reminded of one of my favorite movies – Scent of a Woman. In the closing scene where Al Pacino is dressing down the Baird faculty, he says that throughout his life, without question, he always knew what was the right thing to do, but he never did it, because it was just “too damn hard”.
Dr. King never said doing the right thing was easy. He just said “the time is always right to do what is right.”
Source: Martin Luther King, J. (1986). A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writing of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: HarperOne.