Martin Luther King Jr. on Self-Centeredness

“An Individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.  Every person must decide at some point, whether they will walk in light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgement: ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question, is what are you doing for others?”

In a world of soundbites it’s hard to find context.  This is beautiful quote and a challenge I live by.  I wanted to learn more about this speech and sought more information via Google.  It’s attributed to a “Conquering Self-Centeredness” speech he gave in Montgomery, Alabama on August 11, 1957.  I found the text to a speech given that day but not that quote:

“An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.  And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self.  And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness.  They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.”

The discrepancy is a mystery for another day.  Instead I’ll focus on Dr. King’s advice on fighting self-centeredness.  It’s easy to fall victim too it.  We often feel too busy keeping our heads above water that thinking of anyone outside our immediate circle seems impossible but it’s not.  In the simplest ways we can reach out to others: letting someone go ahead of you at the store, picking up a piece of trash, finding an hour a week or even a month to help someone out.  Small actions add up quickly but I digress.  I’ll leave the rest to MLK in his own words:

Discover some cause and some purpose, some loyalty outside of yourself and give yourself to that something. The best way to handle it is not to suppress the ego but to extend the ego into objectively meaningful channels…. so many people are unhappy because they aren’t doing anything. They’re self-centered because they aren’t doing anything. They haven’t given themselves to anything and they just move around in their little circles. Find some great cause and some great purpose, some loyalty to which you can give yourself and become so absorbed in that something that you give your life to it.

[Have] the proper inner attitude toward your position or toward your status in life or whatever it is. You conquer self-centeredness by coming to the point of seeing that you are where you are today because somebody helped you to get there. You discover that you have your position because of the events of history and because of individuals in the background making it possible for you to stand there.

Religious faith gives you this type of balance and this type of perspective that I’m talking about. This, you see, is something of the genius of great religion, that on the one hand, it gives man a sense of belonging and on the other hand, it gives him a sense of dependence on something higher, So he realizes that there is something beyond in which he lives and moves and even moves and gains his being. This is what great religion does for him. And when you come to see that, you see that your existence is adjectival; it is dependent on something else. Your existence is dependent on the existence of a higher power and you can’t walk around the universe with arrogance. You can’t walk about the universe with a haughty spirit because you know that there is a God in this universe that you are dependent on.

Photo Source: Conscious Magazine

One thought on “Martin Luther King Jr. on Self-Centeredness

  1. Great research and finding the truest understanding of Dr. King's work.

    We all share in building the world as one not as an individual surrounding ourselves with specific identifiers that separate us and builds dividers between us all.

    You are enlightened to learn from Dr. King.


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