On January 30, 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama a young preacher was giving a speech at his church. It was about 9:30 in the evening when he noticed some uneasiness amongst the people in the church.
After watching several of his fellow ministers walk in-and-out repeatedly, he pulled one aside to figure out what was going on. The minister hesitantly shared that the preacher’s home had been bombed.
He hurried home to check on his wife and baby girl. As he approached his house, hundreds of angry faces were rallied around. He ran inside to find his wife Coretta, composed as ever, safely holding their baby. Everyone was okay.
That preacher was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King had been preaching nonviolent resistance for a few years in Montgomery prior to the incident. After assuring his family’s safety he stepped out onto the battered porch to face the angry mob.
“We believe in law in order. Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky at all. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them.”
The crowd slowly calmed and dispersed into the night with King’s closing words.
His heart was full of anger and emotion. Most of us would agree that if something was to cause us to get violent it’s an attack on the ones we love. Although he was filled with anguish and fury, he couldn’t lash out. He had to stay composed when others were not. He had to stay true to his message of a nonviolent resistance.
There are two huge actions that King that night took to show his composure and lead his followers in the time of crisis.
How You Act in Times of Struggle
The motivational speaker Les Brown says “It’s easy to be positive when your bills are paid, and your relationships are good.”
Or as my good friend Dr. Jillian Sarno Teta says, “It’s easy to be all-good when it’s all good.”
I just graduated college. I have no debt. I have a support network, and a great job with a great company. I have no wife, no kids, no mortgage, and no unidentifiable growths on any intimate areas. Of course it’s easy for me to be positive and happy-go-lucky looking towards the future. But when life comes around and smacks me in the face as it so often does, how I respond will be a the revealing of my true character.
MLK was certainly pissed that somebody attacked his family. He’s human. Who wouldn’t be? But he knew that how he reacted, so would the mob. He was a leader of this movement, and he knew he must remain strong or all his efforts of nonviolent resistance would have gone to waste.
King believed, like many great philosophers (and some pretty cool blogs) that growth comes through struggle. You don’t get a great relationship without going through some shitty ones. You don’t get a killer bod without sweating and burning muscles. And often times riches come only after some painful money mistakes.
If you’re doing anything worth leading in life, tough times will come. But composure and belief in a brighter future in these dark moments define you as a leader.
Your Actions Match Your Words
Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements calls it being impeccable with your word. Motivational speaker Eric Thomas calls is execution. I call it doing what you say you’re going to do. And my father says “less jaw, and more paw.”
However it’s said, it boils down to your actions being worth more than your words.
Matching your words to your actions is a true sign of leadership. MLK had been preaching nonviolent resistance for years, and now, when his emotions were high, it was time to practice what he preached.
When I was a kid, there were a handful of times that my brothers and I were on a road trip with my dad where we had to sleep in the car. There we were, the three of us sandwiched in the back of his Dodge Durango in the middle of July. We were squished, and hot as hell because you couldn’t open the windows because of the blood thirsty mosquitos. But it wasn’t like my dad was in a luxurious hotel suite. He was right there in the front seat snoring away. There’s a certain amount of respect that is formed when leaders are in the grind with you.
MLK marched, sat-in at the lunch counters, went to jail, and acted in a nonviolent way when his housed was bombed. His words were loud and powerful, but his actions spoke tenfold.
A few weeks ago I pledged to write Monday thru Friday every week. I completely missed everyday last week. But this is a new week to make my actions greater than my words. A bad day, or a bad week, does not mean you are a failure, it just means you failed. What do you consistently say you’re going to do, but don’t? Just because you failed at your New Years gym pledge 100x before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start again. Leaders lead with action, and with composure in tough times.
Remain calm, and keep moving. Be a leader.