Last week I had an evaluation at my job. It was positive, and my boss told me that I’ve done exceptionally well, that the quality of my work was “above and beyond.” I told her that I didn’t see myself that way. I just saw my performance as “doing my job…accomplishing what I was hired to do.”
I share this anecdote today in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., not because I compare myself to him or because I feel I’m obliged to post something on a day that celebrates his accomplishments but because it makes me wonder what would happen if everyone just “did their job” in a way that was perceived by others as “above and beyond.”
Some of the leaders who inspire me the most weren’t looking for recognition. Mohandas K. Gandhi was a model of humility. Nelson Mandela once appeared on Oprah and asked “What’s the subject of today’s show?” not realizing that his story was more than enough to fill 60 minutes. Blessed Mother Teresa never brought light to herself and instead claimed that “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, who could probably opt to have a lush life of luxury and indulgence says she has “a really cool day job” and fights for education and equality. Modern day education reformers say that what they do isn’t for themselves but “for the children.”
They’re all people who believe in a sense of community. They fight against what Bobby Kennedy so eloquently called “The Mindless Menace of Violence” that plagues our nation and creates second class citizens. And they don’t do it for their own sake. They do it for everyone else.
I believe that’s the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. His message was one of equality and justice, but it was also a message of looking out for one another and seeing yourself in your neighbor. He believed in a world where people believed in the dignity of every human being, and he didn’t it without looking for recognition. In fact, he did it knowing that his ideas were revolutionary. Perhaps most importantly, he did it because he knew it was the right thing and the moral thing to do. I don’t know if I take on the same attitude with my work when I say I’m “just doing my job,” but I like to think that somehow I’m echoing the work ethic of all these great leaders when I walk into the office every day. Imagine what would happen if we all did that.