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King’s Lesson

“Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.

Of course Martin Luther King was speaking about issues far greater than the daily toil we endure with handling a chronic illness, but the message does speak to our plight. I do not mean to exploit Dr. King’s words, but rather celebrate them as an opportunity to gain perspective.

Success is a goal and sometimes a myopic one depending on how we define success. I’ve written before how success has its costs, and I believe King’s words speak to just that idea. What is the price we pay for succeeding when we undercut our diabetes care? Is the goal worth the cost when it causes a diminishment in our standard of care? If whatever you are striving to achieve keeps you from healthy food, or time to workout or somehow de-stress and reflect on the trends in your glucose levels, then it is doing more harm than good. We often sacrifice the short-term by justifying it in terms of long-term return. For us with diabetes, that isn’t an option. All that we do now, matters.

Who doesn’t want to be recognized? We all crave adulation and praise, it’s part of human nature. But what do we want to be recognized for? It seems an appropriate goal to be singled out as healthy, and not just “healthy in spite of”. That sort of recognition coupled with such a goal is the opposite of King’s concern. If we strive toward important, appropriate validation on an individual basis, we will not stray from doing what is right.

Conformity is a slippery slope. At times we all need to conform, like it or not. Yet, we so value the individual, that “conformity” can seem vulgar. For us, we must differentiate when we are conforming out of a desire to better ourselves by aligning our actions with guidelines more stringent than our own, and when we are merely following a practice because it’s all we have ever known. King’s concept of this latter conformity is what kept us as a nation in the dark for so long. Stepping into the light of a new path is a deviation from conformity, while at the same time acquiring a better road.

Today we celebrate martin Luther King’s success in being his own man, one who knew success, recognition and conformity are all man’s ideals, and ones that come with myriad trappings. It is a profound individual that can see through the tangled web and find the righteous path. Let us follow the steps of a predecessor who clearly knew the way.

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