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MLK Day: What do you plan on doing? January 8, 2009

Martin Luther King Memorial Fountain in Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Fountain in Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco

In case you didn’t know already, Martin Luther King Day falls on January 19th this year, right before the inauguration. President-elect Obama has called on American citizens to celebrate MLK’s legacy by devoting a day to community service. The incoming administration has even created a new website to help organize the volunteer events: usaservice.org – Renew America Together

I’m currently scheduled to work that day, but luckily, the large cable network corporation that I work for (which will go unnamed so I can speak candidly in the future) has a policy for community service days – we get two paid days per year to volunteer for non-profit causes. So I’m arranging the day off, and as long as the company approves it, I’ll be helping pack discount food packages for the SHARE program in Pulaski, Virginia.

Have you decided how you will contribute that day? If you have to work, no matter what, you could consider doing your job out of a spirit of service, for example. That’s what I plan to do if I’m not approved for the community day for some reason. I talk to dozens of people around the country each evening, so it’s easy to consider my everyday contacts as mini-service opportunities.

Even though I work in a retail field, which is relatively crass compared to the usual idea of selfless service, a lot of times, I find what people seem to be looking for when they call in is a kind word, or having someone show a respectful attitude toward them. The item they are purchasing is one thing, but the interaction that I have with them often leaves them in a better state of mind than when they called in. This is the intangible, priceless value of human kindness and acceptance.

Although I have my days, where it’s not so easy to be pleasant, and I always thought of community service as something more lofty and noble, just being kind to the people you interact with each day can create “ripples” which help to promote kindness and decency in general. The people you impress with your generosity may go home and be more fair to those around them, and so on. It’s easy to be cynical and think, people are essentially self-motivated, and will greedily snatch up your kindness, with no awareness or regard in return. And trust me, that does happen. There’s no explaining the needless hostility of mankind (which includes women).

But the ones you do affect are what counts. If you’re not up for that, just try being gentler with your self that day. Give yourself a break or the benefit of the doubt for a change, and see what happens. After studying Buddhist teachings formally and informally for several years, the big takeaway I had from my studies was that you have to be gentle and kind with yourself first, before you can help others. Happy MLK day!

 

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