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Opportunity in Martin Luther King Day

It seems that few things are exempt from controversy in our world. National holidays, entertainers, sports legends and even historical figures. Entities from each of these categories have at some time in recent recall been subjected to scrutiny, strong public opinion and general discord. Unfortunately, we have a growing tendency to find disagreement and strife at an exhaustive level. Just around the corner is the Martin Luther King national holiday. Undoubtedly on the surrounding days there will be discussions from water coolers to talking heads about the politics of Dr. King. Agreement, disagreement, understanding, misconceptions, and partisan polarizations…..I challenge that we resist the urge to be caught up in such banter. I challenge that we each embrace the day as we should — an opportunity to set aside what divides us and embrace, TRULY and fully embrace, what unites is.

Jan. 21 is a day that provides opportunity. Opportunity for pause and reflection. Opportunity for service and unity. Opportunity to make a difference and create lasting change in our own corner of the world. In his famous book “From Strength to Love,” Dr. King wrote “only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.” He believed that “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” — and thus he knew that authentic inner change must first begin in himself. He believed ardently that change can begin with a small gesture and that resulting impact can spread like a wildfire. MLK day is an opportunity for each of to ignite that fire and breathe a fresh breath into our community.

Great impact does not have to be the result of a grandiose and meticulous plan. Lasting impression are made sometimes as a result of the smallest acts of kindness. The most meniscal gesture can absolutely change the tenor of another human being’s day. An unsolicited smile, a door held open, a small moment delivered in gratitude. The smallest expression delivered with the most genuine intent can make an immeasurable difference.

On this Martin Luther King Day, I challenge each of you to resist the urge to debate and wrangle over unsynchronized views. We have plenty of days for that cacophony. For this one single day, let’s embrace what does unite us. Let’s embrace our shared desire for a stronger, happier, more cohesive world. Let’s consider what we can do that might make a difference to another. If you can give a few hours of service — do it! Reach out to a local organization and see what you can do to help. (or reach out to our United Way team and let us help you find a service niche for the day). Not everyone has this day away from their workplace; not everyone can give the time in service. So instead I challenge you to determine that you will distribute random acts of kindness throughout the day. Hold the door, even if it slows you down a half a minute. Deliver coffee to the security guard at your workplace. Smile, really smile at someone you don’t know. Thank a co-worker or service provider or teacher…show real gratitude for some that may on any other day go unacknowledged and unspoken. Simply be present in the day, all day. Look around you. Instead of seeing differences, seek out the similarities. We are all more alike than we are different. We all have struggles and challenged and hardships…they are just packaged a little differently from person to person. Embrace MLK day as a chance to step away from, not into, controversy. Serve, love, listen. Seize the opportunity to make a difference right where you live.

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Stacy DeCicco is the executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

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