“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” – Martin Luther King Jr.
You don’t have to be a fiery speaker or lead marches and protests to follow civil rights leader Martin Luther King’ Jr.’s map for human interaction. But, you do need to start or increase your respect and openness.
If you feel Dr. King’s legacy is too crucial to be cooped up in one day, a few Tweeted quotes or a speech, start respecting and even loving the strange woman who sits three cubicles down. Do it even if she tries to take credit for your ideas or your work.
For Dr. King’s vision included love for everyone – and peaceful approaches, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. “Respect for all people, irrespective of who they are. Uplift all persons – he repeatedly made that point at mass meetings and in speeches,” said Lewis V. Baldwin, PhD., a professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University and author of five books on King.
King believed, Baldwin said, that it’s very important to “live your life by the ethic of love, unconditional love.” If love feels too gushy and personal for your boss or that super-efficient new salesperson, substitute genuinely caring for them and always wanting good to come to them. Be selfless, altruistic and holds people in high esteem – and you may be so disarming and engaging enough to win over some nay-sayers at the office.
Baldwin, who is speaking on King repeatedly this month, suggests other ways to incorporate his ideals into your work-life:
- Establish bonds of friendships. It’s important for friendships to form across race, class, gender, sexual orientation and national origin. This is where those strange loners and idea-stealing staffers down the hall come in. Friendship can help remove mistrust, fear and miscommunication.
- Be open and willing to learn. Openness goes beyond tolerance, and encourages a broad view of different ideas and people. Be open to growth and seek out educational opportunities and paths to better understanding. This openness could help you see possibilities to advance your career and your organization.
- Seek nonviolent resolution for conflicts. Start from a place of respect – even for the person who opposes you. Then start a dialogue and bring in a mediator, a third party who’s not involved, if needed.
- Read Dr. King’s ideas and thoughts. Many books are available, but Baldwin recommended “Creative Living” by Michael Long, which is based on Dr. King’s approach, and the volumes of his papers, edited by Clayborne Carson, from 1957-58 in which he answers many questions on how people could relate to each other. Baldwin’s most recent book, “Never to Leave Us Alone” considers the prayer life of Dr. King.
If you really want to delve into Dr. King’s life and teachings, consider a conversation or book group at work. Bring everyone together once a week to discuss his biography or another tome – and ways to incorporate that into your cubicle culture.