Friday, September 16, 2011

In Line with Imperfect Greatness

Where the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is situated on the National Mall, it is directly in between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. From the air, these three memorials create a straight line. In today's close-up photograph of the side of the Stone of Hope, you can see the Jefferson Memorial in the background.

The MLK Memorial's positioning between Jefferson and Lincoln was deliberate. Organizers wanted the tribute to King to be connected to the existing memorials to civil rights leaders on the National Mall. As Jefferson was the author of the United States Constitution which was the basis for King's call for equality for all Americans, proximity to his memorial -- the second on the National Mall -- is meaningful. King delivered one of his most important addresses from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time, the Lincoln Memorial was selected for this occasion as symbolic nod to Lincoln, who a hundred years before King's "I Have a Dream" speech had signed the Emancipation Proclamation giving millions of slaves their freedom in 1863. It;s poetic the linking MLK, Lincoln and Jefferson here in the nation's capital through the placement of these national memorials.

Another commonality between these three great men besides their contributions to advancing civili rights was that they were not perfect. We hold our leaders to a much higher standard than we often hold ourselves, a standard that is difficult to meet. I don't know why we expect them to be perfect. While we should expect leaders to be honest and strive to live by a higher moral code, we shouldn't be shocked and disillusioned when they make poor choices. Lincoln may have freed the slaves in 1863, but he wasn't against the institution of slavery necessarily. Issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a military tactic than a moral statement. Thomas Jefferson advocated for the equality of all men, but he lived as a slaveowner and even fathered slaves. And while nothing has been proven, rumors of plagiarism and infidelity have circulated for years about King.

No one is perfect. To expect perfection from anyone, especially ourselves, is foolish. But, imperfections do not have to diminish or limit our greatness. Look to this line of leaders celebrated on the National Mall for inspiration. They prove that ordinary, imperfect people can accomplish grand, impacting change in our world, change that can last for generations and beyond.

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