Martin Luther King Jr. never shied away from speaking the truth as he saw it. He never questioned whether or not others would agree with the truth as he saw it. He stood up confidently and spoke. He didn't shy away from acclaim when it was given him. He was a strong man. He knew the truth of who he was, who he wanted to be, and what he wanted for the world.
When I researched Martin Luther King Jr. while writing my novel, All She Ever Wanted, I was surprised to find that he often struggled with his own personal doubts, insecurities, and faults in private. This discovery gave me hope. It reminded me that greatness isn't perfection. In history, we often like to put a veil of perfection on those who do great things, and we forget that being human is what makes their achievements remarkable.
In All She Ever Wanted, the protagonist, Victoria, finds her ancestors' journals dating back to pre-Civil War days, and she reads them. They chronicle her ancestors involvement with the Underground Railroad helping slaves escape to freedom as well as the beliefs of her female ancestors on her father's side of the family. Victoria reads these with interest often feeling the internal conflict that fueled the actions described and sometimes feeling intense anger and embarrassment when her ancestors didn't live according the truth they knew. She also felt pride in having an ancestry filled with strong women who did live their truths even when they had to disguise those truths in order to live them effectively. Two entries in Victoria's grandmother's journal serve to remind us sometimes living one's truth isn't quite as simple as it sounds.
Excerpt from All She Ever Wanted:
Often we know the truth, but we're too afraid to take action. We hide behind our busy lives or we believe what the pundit on television tells us without ever stopping to think the pundit has his/her own agenda to push. We don't stop to think about the strength it took people like Martin Luther King Jr. to stand in his truth every single day of his life. We don't stop to think that if we all stood in our truths more often, we could affect the world for the better. We don't stop to think that if we just acknowledged that sometimes the truth is that confusion we feel as we learn what we've been taught by someone we respect is based on falsehoods rather than facts. When we accept that truth and look forward, we can begin to live for what we believe is right. We can stand in our own truths even on the days we have doubts or feel insecure about expressing our truth.It’s been an interesting week. I mailed money, cash, secretly to Martin Luther King, Jr. My husband would have fits if he knew. He’s of the school that thinks the colored people should never have been freed. He certainly doesn’t believe they should have the same rights as the rest of us. I don’t really understand that. After all, they’re people, too. Anyway, there are rumors, Dr. King may be in a city near here soon. If he comes, I’m going to lie and say I’m going shopping there, so I can go and hear him speak. I have to keep my plans and my thoughts quiet though. My lovely son can’t even know what I’m doing. He would tell his father for sure. My own father and mother wouldn’t be pleased if they knew, but they won’t know. I’ll just have to be sure and buy a pretty dress before I come home.Victoria was impressed with her grandmother’s planning. She was also proud of her grandmother’s convictions even if she hadn’t been able to make them public. She stretched and sipped her water as she continued.I did it! I’ll never be caught now. I went and heard Dr. King speak. What a wonderful speaker! What a thrill! To be there, to not get caught, to see this history maker in the flesh. What a day!
When we look at those we admire, such as Dr. King, sometimes it's important that we see them as humans first and heroes second. When we see them as heroes first, we lose sight of their humanity. That's when we drop a veil of perfection around them shutting out exactly what made their work so effective and so important. It's also how we excuse our own inaction when we know the truth. We use our delusion of their perfection to convince ourselves we can't be effective because we're not good enough.
In reality, we each make our own contribution to society. We have the power to create change in our lives, our families, our communities, our cities, our states, our world. It's up to us to use that power effectively and wisely. It's up to each of us to stand tall in our truth and strive to make the world just a little bit better even if it seems the change we're making is too small for anyone to notice.
When we strive to improve ourselves, we make the world a better place. Change must always start within, but it must be shared with others to impact the world. It may seem selfish to work on being one's best self, but I've learned that we can only offer our best to the world when we're willing to do the work to discover our best. I write about my journey to find my best self in my book of poetry, Reflections in Silhouette: Poems, in hopes that my journey will help someone else on theirs. Our truth ripples through those closest to us and spreads out to those who know them and then to their circle of friends and then theirs and then theirs and... pretty soon some small gesture you made has changed the life of someone you've never met and who you will never know you affected. That is the glory of standing in one's own truth. It's isn't about accolades or recognition. It's all about making the world a better place.