Inspiration from a Great Leader of Change & Compassion
Walt Vernon, PE, LEED AP, EDAC, FASHE
Principal, Chief Executive Officer
When I was about five years old, I remember my mom sent me outside to play. She was watching what she told me was a funeral – the funeral services of Martin Luther King – and she was crying uncontrollably. I remember having a vague knowledge that something terrible had happened and that somebody really important had died. However, I had no real grasp on what was going on. I just knew It was not a good day.
And, through the years, I learned about him in school, and I had a kind of academic appreciation for who he was, and what he stood for. I knew he was in the Pantheon of Gandhi-Mandela-King, and I even knew we had a holiday for him. But I was never overly affected by this knowledge. Indeed, given the proximity in time, I have been teaching my kids for years about what a great hero Nelson Mandela was, largely ignoring Dr. King.
Last night, I took my son to see Selma. First, if you have not seen it, go see it now. Do not wait. Tears were rolling down my cheeks in many places, and I understood, really for the first time, I think, not only the academic version of what Dr. King stood for, but the truth of what he meant.
The thing that always impressed me most about Nelson Mandela, and now, Dr. King, was their ability to rise above the hatred that surrounded them on both sides. Both of them hated, obviously, the injustice and cruelty that we humans are so capable of. But, both of them were able to transcend that hatred in their response to it, unlike many of those who surrounded them. And that was what moved me the most, as I watched Selma last night. It is so easy, when confronted by something you don’t like, or that is evil, to point it out. It is so easy to want to strike back and to destroy the other. It is NOT easy, but it is necessary, to do the opposite, in order to make a difference. Both Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were able to see and to show us that hate begets hate, and that generosity of soul begets, or maybe births generosity in response.
Dr. King saw, and called to the best in all of us. And still, through this movie, through his legacy, he continues to call to us.
We can’t all be Dr. King, though, or Nelson Mandela. Most of us are not so gifted. But every day, we are given, a hundred times, the opportunity to live their lessons. A hundred times a day, we see, hear, feel things around us that can make us angry or hurt or misunderstood. Every day, we are given the gift of the choice of response. What we can do, and what we owe to ourselves and to each other and to the ineffable spirit of the world, is to heed their call; to turn our backs on hatred and meanness that leap so quickly in response, and to reach down and find and unleash the power of the generosity of spirit that lives in all of us.