“Power is so characteristically calm, that calmness itself has the aspect of strength.” – Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Precious and Valuable
The two words above are a perfect description of life. They help us understand the fragility that makes up our one precious life. Knowing that we don’t get a do-over can either make us live cautiously, never taking any risks and playing it safe, or take advantage of every opportunity and moment to give everything we have and leave nothing to chance.
Attached to the precious and valuable description of life is its quality. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked, “The quality, not the longevity of one’s life, is what’s important.” For King, this was true. He lived his life with unmatched ferocity, although it was cut short at the age of 39. One marked quality that reflected Dr. King was his ability to practice calmness. It was a superpower he had to use often to turn the tide during the Civil Rights movement. In his autobiography, he recalled how during negotiations for the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955, he had to remind himself to stay calm and tame his anger, which could have yielded bitterness.
While anger may be necessary to awaken and call attention in order to cause action, without a calm mind, it threatens to run wild and do more harm than good. Calmness helped Dr. King to channel his anger and those of others into a transformative force. How do we apply this superpower in a climate fraught with occasions for anger? Here are two ways to practice calmness using Dr. King’s example:
Be Committed to Your WHY
Reviewing, rehearsing, and reaffirming why you are doing what you do is necessary to maintain calm, especially when things don’t go the way you planned or expected. As a parent, I have learned that sticking to the WHY, which is to raise children who know they are loved, can make sound choices, and live out their God-given purpose has helped me stay calm in moments I felt I was going to push the nuclear button and go ballistic. Calling to mind the WHY of parenting has helped keep my emotions in check in the heat of the moment.
Besides the weather, there is plenty of heat around us. Health, racial, economic, and social heat. They all trickle down and affect our individual lives in one way or another. Putting your WHY in front of all the heat you may be experiencing is how you stay calm and carry on. Your WHY gives you the wherewithal to continue pressing forward when life attempts to pull you back. It becomes your shade, keeping you cool and calm when the heat of life is turned up.
I believe it’s what kept Dr. King going, and calm, as he navigated the wildfires of hatred, violence, and injustice that plagued his day. Commitment to a strong WHY gives you the legs to keep standing. In talking about the importance of why, Simon Sinek, best-selling author of Start with Why says this:
“The WHY can help bring clarity to the fuzzy and make tangible that which is abstract…. The WHY can help us act with purpose, on purpose.”
What is your WHY? Can you flesh it out into words? Are you fluent in it? This fluency and commitment to your WHY help you act with purpose, on purpose. Even when days are not perfect. In doing so, we cease to become thermometers and elevate into thermostats.
Be a Thermostat, not a Thermometer
Due to COVID-19, temperature checks along with wearing face masks became the norm. While thermometers read the current temperature, thermostats possess a mechanism that can change the temperature in a space.
What spaces do you frequent? Like Dr. King did, how can you use faith, love, hope, grace, and a desire to serve to become a thermostat? Sometimes a smile can relieve tension at home, at work, at the store, or on a Zoom video call. Eliud Kipchoge, the legendary marathon runner and current world record holder, once said that smiling while running helped him remain calm and relaxed amid the tension building in his muscles as the race wore on. It also helped maintain efficiency throughout the run. Upon hearing this, I applied it and realized the untapped power of smiling to run better. I have also seen the power of smiling through our seven-month-old daughter Priscilla. Her smile has a calming effect, and it’s contagious. No matter how frustrated I am, I can’t help but smile too, and with it, my frustration is washed away. How often do you smile? It’s a thermostat setting that can instantly change the mood in a particular space. I agree that there is not much to smile about with all the tension surrounding us, and masks may make it difficult to see others smile (I noticed that smiling shows in our eyes). But even in dark times, the best gift we may be able to offer is a smile. Go ahead and infect someone with your smile. It just might be the path to bringing calm where you are.
Final thought: Without control, a fire can cause irreparable damage. But when it is under control, it can do plenty of good. Calmness is the controlled inner environment that helps our strongest emotions prove useful for tremendous progress. Staying committed to your why and becoming a thermostat will aid you in remaining calm and bringing calmness during tumultuous times. As Joshua Gilbert-Holland said, “Calmness is the cradle of power.”
Keep on Keeping on!