Martin Luther King, The Dream and Career Success

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the USA.  Dr. King is a personal hero of mine.  He did a lot to promote racial equality and harmony in this country.  I am old enough to remember watching his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial live on television.  It was August 28, 1963, two weeks after my 13th birthday.

Here are some excerpts from that speech…

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.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

These are powerful words.  They focus on tolerance and civility and the basic dignity of all human beings.   Tolerance and civility are important today.  Our political rhetoric has gotten out of hand.  Our society is becoming increasingly intolerant and uncivil. 

The founders of the Civility Project have closed it down because of the angry emails they have received. The Civility Project asked us all to do three things:

  • Be civil in your public discourse and behavior.
  • Be respectful of others, whether or not you agree with them.
  • Take a stand against incivility when you see it.

I took the Civility Pledge.  I think it is good for our society.  I also think it is important career advice.  Behaving in a civil manner is the best way to build the relationships that can lead to your life and career success.

Career success is built on relationships.  Relationships are built on tolerance and civility.  Tweet 124 in my career success book Success Tweets says, “Everyone has something to offer.  Never dismiss anyone out of hand.” 

Successful people have a deep respect for the dignity of each individual.  It doesn’t matter if the person in front of you is the President of the United States, a member of the opposite political party, your boss, a co-worker, a waiter, a taxi driver, a security guard or the housekeeper at your hotel. 

Treating every person you meet with dignity and respect is a great first step in building the relationships that will lead to your life and career success.

Cathy, my wife, is the best example of someone who values every person she meets.  She is friends with everyone – the pharmacy techs where we get out prescriptions, the couple who own the dry cleaners where we do business, the supermarket checkout people and baggers, the servers at the restaurants we frequent, and on and on and on.

Cathy is genuinely interested in these people.  She knows their names, their spouses’ names and their kids’ names. She inquires about their lives.  She knows about their vacations, what grades their kids are in school and lots of other things about them – all because she values them as individuals and takes the time to get to know them.  She is one of the least judgmental and most accepting people I know.

The other day I called home when I was traveling.  Cathy was upset because one of the women who attended a birthday luncheon she organized was rude to a waiter.  She said to me, “I was embarrassed by the way she treated him.  It just wasn’t right.  He is a human being too.”  She understands the importance of civility.

If you want to create the life and career success you deserve, take a lesson from Cathy.  Pay attention to the people around you.  You will learn a lot and your life will be richer for it.  Don’t judge people by what they do.  Get to know others as individuals.  You’ll be surprised at what you learn.

I have had some very interesting conversations with taxi drivers in New York City.  These days, most of them are immigrants.  They love this country and are well informed about it.  When I get into a taxi, most often the driver is listening to NPR or an all news station.  I have had some great conversations about local and national politics, the state of the US economy, and sports with taxi drivers.

In Denver, I occasionally use a car service to go to and from the airport.  This service is a cooperative.  The members of the coop are all immigrants from Ethiopia.  They were all political refugees.  They are happy to be in the USA and are willing to discuss it in depth.  I love my rides to and from the airport with them.

And, I learned something very interesting.  Ethiopia was a Catholic country until the schism in 1066.  The Ethiopian Church sided with the Eastern Church in Constantinople and broke with Rome.  I was raised Catholic, but my father’s parents were Orthodox Christian, or Russian Orthodox, as we called them.  In that tradition they celebrate Christmas on January 7 because they use a different calendar.

I remember having two Christmases when I was young.  I always got a small present on January 7.  Imagine my surprise when a guy from Africa told me that he couldn’t drive me to the airport on January 7 because he chose to stay at home and celebrate Christmas with his family. 

This led to a very interesting discussion on how Ethiopia participated in the schism.  When the Ethiopian community in Denver was building a new church, Cathy and I were some of the donors.

See what I mean about treating everyone as if he or she has something to offer?  I never would have learned some valuable information about how similar the life experiences of a black guy from Ethiopia were to my own growing up had I not taken the time to engage him in conversation.

Dr. King had a dream that people will be judged by their character – not the color of their skin.  I believe that we should judge all people by their character, not the color of their skin, their national origin, their sexual preference, their religion, their political views, or anything else that really doesn’t matter. 

If you want to create the life and career success you deserve, you need to listen to other people and build relationships with them.

One of the pieces of career advice I repeat most often is a practical application of tolerance and civility…

“When someone starts to speak, and you think to yourself ‘that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard’ listen real hard because that’s when you have the greatest opportunity to learn something.”

Civil discourse helps open your eyes to different perspectives.  You may not agree with what you learn, but at least you’ll have an opportunity to see the world from a perspective different from your own.

The common sense career success coach point here is simple.  On this Martin Luther King Day resolve to be more civil and tolerant.  Follow the career advice in Tweet 124 in Success Tweets.  “Everyone has something to offer.  Never dismiss anyone out of hand.  Take the initiative.  Actively build relationships.” 

Following this career advice will help you create the life and career success you want and deserve.  More important, it will lead to a richer and fuller life.  When you engage people, when you expect to find them to be interesting, you will open yourself up to a world of ideas that will not only help your career success, you will be helping to make this a more civil world – one in which the dignity of every person is respected and honored.

That’s my take on how Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech relates to your life and career success.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts on this topic.  As always, thanks for reading.  I value you and your comments.


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