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managing the Vision of MLK

by | Jan 18, 2022 | manage, Martin Luther King Jr, Vision

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How do you manage to keep your deepest Vision alive?

“The bullet stopped just half-an-inch before the backbone, and if it had stopped a half-an-inch earlier, it would have lodged in a major artery. Either way, this dog is lucky to be alive”… and with that, the lights went out. I awakened a few minutes later in another room on a soft couch with a cold rag on my forehead… I had no idea how I managed to get there…

Early Visions are critical to manage

During the last few years, we have all been reminded of the “animal” that we all are as humans. Disease is constantly on our minds, and some of our base instincts have come out as we all fear for our own survival. I have used this time to dive deeper into the field of Neuroscience which has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. And we have more in common with that dog, in a good way than you might imagine. Sharing the part of the Kingdom (that is the Biology term and a great double entendre) as mammals, we were created/evolved to have the ability to control our body’s response to fear. In my case, my deep empathy made ME feel like I was the dog, and as R2 D2 said, “I will be shutting down for a while”.

At his childhood home, King and his two siblings would read aloud the Bible as instructed by their father. After dinners there, King’s grandmother Jennie, who he affectionately referred to as “Mama”, would tell lively stories from the Bible to her grandchildren. And… his father would regularly use whippings for discipline, including having his children whip each other. King’s father later remarked, “[King Jr.] was the most peculiar child whenever you whipped him. He’d stand there, and the tears would run down, and he’d never cry.

King became friends with a white boy whose father owned a business across the street from his family’s home. When the boys were about six years old, they started school, and King had to attend a school for black children. His friend went to a “separate but equal school”. Soon, the parents of the white boy stopped allowing King to play with their son, stating: “we are white and you are colored”. When King relayed the happenings to his parents, they had “the talk” with him about the history of slavery and racism in America. Upon learning of the hatred, violence and oppression that black people had faced in the U.S. King would later state that he was “determined to hate every white person”. His parents instructed him that it was his Christian duty to manage to love everyone.

Music is a direct path into early Visions – so manage carefully

The story of me passing out is so common that is not even remarkable. And sadly, it is genetic and all of my kids have “inherited” what is known as Vasovagal Response. The Vagal nervous system is the one that “protects” you – and surprisingly, is the one that mammals can decide to overrule. Based on sensory inputs from that nerve system that is centered around your face, your brain reads the “intention” of others’ facial muscles – smiles, frowns, etc… and can determine “no – that is not a threat”. The easiest way to see this is when a dog greets its owner – it flips over on its back – EXPOSING it’s vital organs to them while gyrating wildly to “pet me”. That is one animal realizing the other is not a threat, but helpful and loving.

Much of what you read in the Leadership and Management space makes it sound like we need to be highly rational, thinking about everything from the left/logical brain. In fact, we have now managed all emotions out of the workplace – and then remember my favorite phrase from coaching – “up until now”. We are emotional animals, and we bond together from THAT context and sharing of physical cues. This is Your Brain on Music explains the connection between emotions, your brain, and Music in terms that are easy to understand. I recommend you dive into it if you really enjoy these articles.

How do you manage to hear the theme song of your Vision often?

The danger of paralleling my story with MLK’s is you might think I am trying to catch him – and be like him. The latter is true, but in no way do I even begin to understand the deep hatred and scorn he faced daily – at first unwillingly, and then, exercising his control over his Vagal nervous system, by CHOICE. He would awaken each day and take on the challenge of managing to not be the animal that his body kept summoning him to be.

 I want to pull out these early formation stories to really get a grasp on how this ordinary young man became extraordinary… and if you read these articles often enough, you know that is the challenge and opportunity for all of us. We all need to manage is our own Vision, our song, and know that is exactly what the world needs, even if we don’t think it matters. It turns out that Vasovagal response also means I have very deep empathy – often TOO much, but that ordinary has allowed me to manage to daily interact and help many. I just have to stop before the lights start to dim 😉

What lit the fire in your Vision, and who manages it now?

Those who knew MLK say hymns, spirituals and other religious songs helped carry him through troubled times. The Rev. C.T. Vivian can still recall the moment, decades after the height of the civil rights movement. As he stood to conclude a meeting in his Atlanta home, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. joined his activist colleagues in song, his eyes closed, rocking back and forth on his heels. “There is a balm in Gilead,” they sang, “to make the wounded whole.”

“The average Christian doesn’t have to pick up his phone when it rings and think about somebody killing him or his children,” said Vivian. “The average Christian didn’t have any of that.” Although King had other favorites, his widow, Coretta Scott King, wrote in her autobiography that it was “Balm in Gilead” that “my husband quoted when he needed a lift.” What do you really want to have this life be about now – after these last few years of managing constant fear and animal instincts? What I can offer is calm, some rest with MLK’s favorite hymn to manage your own memories of your earliest Vision, sung by the great Paul Robeson… A Balm in Gilead…

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