Last week I tried unsuccessfully to write about this topic but the focus wouldn’t come for me. Today is different. I went back to working on this on Martin Luther King Day and his life provided an extraordinary example of what it means to live fearlessly even when you are afraid.
On December 10, 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It does not go to people who tiptoe their way through life. It goes to people who are called to a purpose far greater than themselves, to men and women of all races and nations and faiths, to the young and the old who spend their lives for the good of us all. Their words speak eloquently about living life fearlessly.
In his Nobel acceptance speech, Dr. King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” Over and over throughout his lifetime, King’s words emphasized the importance of speaking out about injustice. “There comes a time,” he said, “when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
What is your conscience whispering to you in the still of the night? Are you asking, “Why me, Lord?” “Everybody can be great,” King said, “because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Fifty years after he won the Nobel Peace Prize, 17-year old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Laureate in history. A fierce advocate for education for girls, Yousafzai was shot by a Taliban gunman while returning home from school. She was 14 at the time, a schoolgirl imbued with the wisdom of the ages. “I raise up my voice,” she said, “not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban,” Yousafzai stressed, “I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.” In her book, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban she said, “I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid – if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”
Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,” he said, “but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., a Christian, Malala Yousafzai, a Muslim, and Elie Wiesel, a Jew – these three representatives of the best of humanity challenge and inspire us all. Wiesel said, “Whenever an angel says, “Be not afraid!” you’d better start worrying. A big assignment is on the way.”
No one said they didn’t worry. No one said they didn’t listen. No one said they didn’t pray. But fear didn’t stop them from living their lives fearlessly. Will it stop you?