Challenge Your Thinking II – What Really Happened Next

King kicks off the meeting with a quick summary of things as they stand on that morning. No bail money, a handful of protestors already in jail, not much of a groundswell of local people eager to march, and a federal court order banning any further marches in town. He reminds the 20 that he has told a few folks that he would march and would be willing to go to jail.

The group of 20 starts to talk, most one at a time but also amongst themselves in small groups of maybe 2 or 3. Those not talking listen and their eyes dart from person to person. King sits quietly while the talk continues.
Numerous points are brought up—you have to go to jail if you said you would; only you can go to northern cities and raise bail money with your name; if the march falters it will look even worse than our last march (in Albany, Georgia) a couple of months ago that went badly in front of the media; we’re in a lot of trouble.

This kind of talk seemed to take the group in a downward spiral. King noted that “a sense of doom began to pervade the room.”

Then, suddenly, King spoke up. His face covered with worry, he said that he needed to leave the room and be by himself to pray. He was gone for 30 minutes.

After a half-hour, he returned to the room and the 20. He was wearing different clothes, a new set of denim overalls, a workman-like outfit. “The path to me is clear,” he announced, “I’ve got to march. I’ve got so many people depending on me, I’ve got to march.”

A few points should grab you about this. First, the group sank downward in mood. King had to do something to shift that mood. Second, there is no vote, no poll about who supports or opposes a particular course of action. King ultimately made the decision himself. And then, of course, there’s the third thing. Prayer. King had a strong Christian faith that was the basis of everything he did or tried to do, not least of which was nonviolent protesting. If he urges people to rely on their spiritual faith, he’d better do the same, even in or especially in the toughest spots. It didn’t take him 30 minutes to find and put on a pair of overalls. He spent the majority of that time in deep, earnest, and emotional prayer.

Don’t freak out at my mentioning of prayer. That’s just the historical truth of what happened in the Gaston Hotel. My point is that you might ask yourself what is above yourself. Because above yourself is a vital place for a leader to go in the hardest times.

Another point on the spirituality of this. King as a Christian and minister knows full well the symbolic power of Good Friday. This only magnifies the point he’s making in challenging authority–the Rome of his world–on this particular day. Remember that such symbolic power is usable in your leadership only if you’re aware of it and act on it.

Finally, a human reminder. We’ve all been in before-the-meeting gatherings and after-the-meeting gatherings. They can affect things as much as the meeting itself. In King’s case, the pre-meeting buzz was not all bad. It was during the meeting that morale fell. Also in King’s case, the post-meeting buzz was electric. Participants were inspired by King’s decision and, interestingly, by the signal sent by his clothes. Being dressed in work clothes was a non-verbal way of saying we’re getting down to business.
All the best, Dan