Perhaps no American — past or present — better epitomizes the definition of leadership than Martin Luther King, Jr. While many men and women have risen in the ranks of leadership — and have succeeded! — very few have done so with such grace and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. One of the trademark qualities belonging to Martin Luther King, Jr. was his desire to be a giver and not a taker — his uncompromising conviction that the key to being great is being generous.
Here, in his own words, is what Martin Luther King, Jr. thought about giving back.
1. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
To Martin Luther King, Jr., it was one or the other — either be generous or be selfish. The fact that he chose the former set the world on fire with change. People sat up and took notice because, in a world that wanted to take everything from him, he stood with open hands. Very rarely, if ever, does a selfish man or woman leave such a positive mark on the world.
2. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
The cares and priorities of this life nearly re-arrange themselves with that single question.
3. “We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles rather than by the quality of our service and the relationship to mankind.”
He said this long before the advent of social media. Today we are taught that nothing happens unless it is documented on Instagram. Martin Luther King, Jr. would argue that the opposite is true. What we do silently in service for our neighbor is what matters most.
4. “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But the good Samaritan reversed the question, ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”
What happens when we do not give to help the less fortunate? Typically speaking, what we stand to lose when we give is far less impactful than what others stand to gain. And the irony? The joy we gain from giving generally outweighs the loss of whatever we gave away.
5. “Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.”
What will you do with your power for greatness?
On this day as we celebrate the birthday of a truly great leader, we should look internally. What can I do for others? How can I use the blessings I’ve been given to bless others in need? Or, perhaps more appropriately, we should say as Martin Luther King, Jr. did—