How to Change the World (the secret of Martin Luther King’s success )

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“I have a dream today!” ~MLK

Why was Martin Luther King Jr. so successful at changing the hearts, minds, laws and, eventually, the culture of America? How was he able to leave such an indelible mark on a nation in a way that has forever changed us at the core of who we are as a people?

I believe the primary reason was that he had a compelling vision that would not let him do anything less than give the vision everything he had.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” ~MLK

Martin Luther King led a movement not merely by virtue of his character or charisma, but because he was able to get others to catch the vision he regularly articulated. He was thereby able to convince the nation that his dream was not only worth fighting for, but was the only dream worthy of having.

To King, it wasn’t about power or even desegregation per se. It was about something bigger than that. It was about justice. It was about equality. It was about human dignity and righteousness and freedom and liberty.

King did not merely want to save blacks, he wanted to awaken whites and save them from their own racism.

He therefore didn’t call the American Founding a racist attempt to keep black men and women enslaved to a second tier existence. Instead, he called us to change, to reevaluate ourselves against our own Founding documents. He didn’t denigrate the Declaration; he challenged us to more perfectly honor it.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” ~MLK

And so it can be with you and me as we decide where we want to take our lives, what we want to do and become and accomplish.

What’s Your Dream?

And so we can limit ourselves by setting goals to do things like lose weight, motivated by the desire to look better in next summer’s swimsuit.

Or we can look for larger, more compelling, morally weighty goals that compel us forward, that draw from us something much deeper than vanity as the inspiration to do the consistent work of turning our dreams into tangible things.

When we discover a larger purpose to our goals, we become committed to them at a deeper level. They call from inside of us a kind of passion that requires faith, focus and determination. We find meaning both in their pursuit and accomplishment and a level of zeal that more “earthly” goals fail to inspire in us.

Back some years ago, I was 40 pounds heavier than I am now. Goals to lose the weight to more comfortably fit into older clothes and feel better about myself came and went.

Then my doctor told me I needed to lose the weight if I ever wanted to see my kids grow up and be a grandpa to my future grandchildren.

I lost the weight.

I shed the pounds because my doctor helped me identify the larger vision, the compelling moral dimension to the specific goal.

Martin Luther King Jr. indeed had a dream. It led him to do something incredible with his life that, in some ways, changed the world.

By finding the larger vision behind the specific goals in your life, you too can generate the MLK kind of zeal and commitment that turned a bus boycott into a civil rights movement and left us all celebrating the better world he helped create.

What dream keeps you awake at night?

(Check out some of my favorite MLK quotes here)

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