January 19th: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”–MLK, Jr.

Step aside, “I have a dream.” Today, I had the pleasure of being introduced, through my school’s MLK Day professional development, to some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lesser known but equally profound quotes. This question resonated with me not just because of the undercurrent of social justice with runs through all of MLK’s speeches and letters, but because of its core message of humanity.

The question above was presented in the environment of education, and appropriately so. As a group, we reflected on its meaning in the context of the diverse student population that we serve, and much could be said on that topic in this forum. But in addition, I immediately recognized its application to my personal life. And since 365 Questions is devoted to personal development, this is the angle I’m taking here today.

It’s not always easy to remember to help others, especially when your professional (teaching) and personal (parenting) lives demand that you spend every minute doing just that. How is it possible, or even reasonable, to do more? Isn’t that elusive “me” time just what we need to find a little happiness?

As it happens, I lost a little “me” time a couple of weekend ago when I volunteered to do a teacher training for an adult refugee education program. I haven’t felt more energy and enthusiasm toward my work in recent memory.

Then the other day, after battling the morning routine to get us all out of the house and off to preschool, I was completely frazzled. My attitude was in the toilet, and I was ready to kiss my kids goodbye and get on with my day off. I was on my way to the library and then to yoga. Instead of rushing away, I stopped to talk to the director of the preschool. Before I left, I found myself scheduled to volunteer for a half day…on my next prized day off. And as I walked away, I realized something. My energy and attitude had done a 180 degree turn. I was content.

Maybe it’s something about freedom, about control. We can do things for others because it’s our job, our responsibility, our obligation. But when we freely go out of our way to make room to help others, we exercise control over our situation. And by helping others, we create space in our lives for the power of humanity.

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