Among the many transformative and inspirational components of MLK’s legacy, even Dr. King understood, and spoke about the importance of love, compassion and acceptance for the self, not only for others. Consider his quote:
“You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself. And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself.”
It is fascinating that as we look back through time, our own histories all the way back through ancient history, the topics of conversation, the focus of our leadership remains steadfast. We are still talking about how to love and accept ourselves, and trying to do a better job at both.
I have written extensively about Tara Brach’s focus on these philosophic gems in her books like Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion that I can’t help but see the common threads that weave themselves through decades and centuries of the human experience.
The relentless consistency of messaging around self-inclusion is both good news and bad news, all at once. It is so obvious that we need to treat others the way we want to be treated (“The Golden Rule”) and to include ourselves in that effort (“The Platinum Rule”) that it seems surprising we need two rules.
Yet, since we are still talking about, learning about and trying to engage, in excellent self-care, and compassion it proves harder than it may first appear, and even more critical to the thriving of our aggregate existence as humans.
It is perplexing that when we think about caring for our neighbor that we require this second “rule” to intentionally include ourselves when it comes to being kind, generous, forgiving and loving. While at the same time we see this play out over and over again through history. MLK’s quote, and season of non-violence, love and social justice were born decades ago. Yet the importance of all he brought to our world is more relevant and critical than ever.
The last sentence in the above quote “And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself” captures the spirit of compassion and acceptance for ourselves that many individuals including myself, continue to struggle with to this day. This is the good news is it shouldn’t be that difficult, and the bad (to quote an anonymous source) “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
Having compassion for others, without having it for ourselves is a futile cycle of giving away what we don’t have and falling further into the hole we dig ourselves to keep us separate and “other.” If we go too far in the other direction, putting ourselves first and failing to see common humanity at large (as Mother Teresa says) “Everyone is Jesus in disguise” means we may over indulge in egoic existence, missing out on the transformative nature of treating others as we treat ourselves.
If we could just see ourselves as one, and as individual, unique and miraculous expressions of the same love, energy and contribution innately gifted as our birth right, we would be closer to Peace. If we saw ourselves in others, and them in us, then we could focus on acceptant and progressive action rather than divisive measures.
If we could recognize that we share more in common, than that which divides us, we could make way for an alternative paradigm to arise. We could swap the zero sum game where there is only one ultimate winner in a finite competition for all of us, to a world where we share our idiosyncratic contributions in an abundant and unending ways.
We know it starts with us. As we reflect on Social Justice and the state of our Nation and World, let’s make sure to absorb the miracle of life itself, and our innate duties to show up fully for all of us, and specifically, for ourselves. In the spirit of MLK Day let’s do the very best we can in whatever capacity we spend this January day, including self-love and acceptance.
We might just find a breath of Peace among the midst of remembering the horrible tragedies that took MLK and others such leaders from our world when our fear of their messages of love was so threatening and impactful that we showed up as our “worst” selves, and killed them.