There is a trend among kids and adults who frequent social media to post pictures accompanied by inspirational quotes. Never before has there been such ready access to words of wisdom, pithy quips or tongue in cheek one-liners. Most are intended to make you smile, or think, or both. Everything from a “selfie” followed by Dr. Seuss’ words of wisdom asking, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” to Maxine’s insights on aging (some of my favorites), including “Age has its advantages, too bad I don’t remember what they are.”
I ran across one recently that gave me pause, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” These words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream Speech,” are just a few lines from arguably the most powerful speech ever delivered, on any topic. Dr. King’s words moved a nation, and often are replayed this week to commemorate his life work. King lived, and died, by his vision.
My daughter mentioned in passing that the speech was replayed in her classroom just last week, although there was not enough time to get through the entire piece. Her comment spurred me to reread the complete message that is as moving today as it was 50 years ago. The words above jumped out at me as particularly relevant, and I wondered if Dr. King would be chagrined by the underlying bitterness that so often mars our political landscape, and the loss of dignity and discipline that recently has pervaded many of our affairs of state.
Last month, the world lost another leader who was able to inspire his country, even from a prison cell. Nelson Mandela had a great gift for words, and a dream that transcended racial boundaries. In perhaps his most influential speech, delivered from the witness stand during the Rivonia Trials, a younger Nelson Mandela boldly proclaimed, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
When I read these words, and quotes from men and women of singular passion and a genius for expression, I often shrug my shoulders, shake my head and acknowledge that they were great people, destined for things I am not. It’s true too, in large measure, as my life progresses on a path that is squarely in the realm of ordinary. I recognize this not in the way of complaint, but instead because it’s healthy, I think, to recognize that I’m a small cog in some greater mystical machinery that will continue to chug away long after I’m gone.
What then to think, or more importantly do, about the inspiration from the individuals who were, and are, larger than life? Recently, I’ve been giving some thought to the fact that we share a common thread of humanity, and while their character was forged from different, and far more difficult circumstances, their advice is relevant in my daily life. Their words can inspire me to abandon the cup of bitterness and hatred, and to aspire, even in my most ordinary circumstances and menial struggles, to try to act with dignity and discipline. So next time I run across some particularly inspirational quote, instead of shrugging my shoulders I’ll smile, and remember that, “Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.” - Abraham Lincoln
Cindy Bargell is a mom and an attorney who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at Cindy@visanibargell.com.