Today’s Wednesday Wisdom comes from the Daily Stoic Blog where Ryan Holiday shares a powerful story:
In October of 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested, denied bail, and sentenced to four months hard labor on a chain gang. Coretta Scott King, worried that her husband might be beaten or lynched, called both the Nixon and Kennedy campaigns. Both desperately needed the black vote. Though he was friends with King and sought his advice when he led the Eisenhower administration’s civil rights efforts, Nixon hesitated. Not wanting to wade into the middle of controversy, when the call came, Nixon betrayed King. Kennedy, meanwhile, made calls first to console Coretta…and then to secure King’s release.
King made it known who stepped up for him when he needed it. Kennedy went on to win the election two weeks later by just thirty-five thousand key votes across two states. How much time would it have taken to pick up a phone and call the wife of a good man wrongly imprisoned? Twenty seconds? Twenty seconds of cowardice cost Nixon the office.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what your track record is. What matters is what you do in a critical moment—sometimes even less than a moment. Do you pull the trigger? Or are you too scared?
It takes just a few seconds to hit send on that email…
…to get those first words out of your mouth
…to put your arm in motion to volunteer
…to take that first step in the run toward a machine-gun nest
…to switch your vote from yes to no or no to yes
…to pick up the phone, as Kennedy did
Can you be positive that something good will come of it? No, outcomes are never certain. What is certain is that the failure to act, even just twenty seconds of cowardice, sticks to us like a scarlet letter. “I was afraid” is not an excuse that ages well, particularly for those who wish to be remembered well by the people they love, respect and admire.
Think about that today as you’re mulling over that big decision. As you’re questioning whether you should speak up or just go along with something you disagree with. Don’t get intimidated by all of it – just look at what’s immediately in front of you. Just take that single step. You can’t swallow the elephant in one bite, as the saying goes. Break courage down into little pieces.
With only a few seconds of bravery we can be great. And that is enough.