What if MLK spoke to an empty room?

I recently heard a powerful, thought-provoking question:

What if Martin Luther King had given his “I Have a Dream” speech to an empty room?

The question (posed by blogger Jon Morrow) was asked rhetorically, but the literal answer is: Nothing would have happened!

Certainly, the following things would not have happened if King had spoken to an empty room:

  • His speech would not have been a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
  • It would not have helped increase the amount of equality, dignity, and understanding in the country (and beyond).
  • It would not have changed the world.
  • And we certainly would not still be talking about it today, over half a century later.

The point here is pretty clear:

If you don’t share your message with the world, it won’t do the world a bit of good!

Jon’s question made me realize that not sharing your gifts is the equivalent of not having any gifts at all! It also sent my brain spiraling into a string of variations and spin-off questions, starting with:

What if King had given his speech in front of a small group of friends?

I imagined Dr. King standing in his living room, expounding on his dream to his friends and family. Yes, they might have felt inspired. They might have told him how much they agreed with him. They might have wondered why he was using his “outside” voice in the living room.

But again, this scenario would have had little to no impact on the world at large—certainly not even a tiny fraction of the impact that King’s words actually had when they were spoken to over 200,000 people (and subsequently heard by millions).

I also couldn’t help but think of different “what-if” examples:

  • What if Gandhi never shared his dream of peace and freedom?
  • What if Shakespeare had never shown Hamlet to anyone?
  • What if Steve Jobs had kept his ideas to himself?
  • What if Picasso had locked his paintings in a trunk or destroyed them before anyone else could see them?
  • What if Bob Dylan only played his songs for himself, never recording or performing in public?
  • (Insert your own what-if examples…)

As I considered these and other possibilities, the really horrible realization dawned on me:

All of this (and worse) IS happening right now!

Or “isn’t happening,” I should say.

Undoubtedly, at this very moment there are geniuses and visionaries all around the world who, for one reason or another, are not sharing their gifts, talents, and messages. Just imagine the countless ways in which the world is being deprived:

  • We’re deprived of inventions that could create clean energy, help feed the hungry, and improve the quality of life for millions…all because an otherwise brilliant inventor did not share their ideas.
  • We’re deprived of great art that could touch millions of hearts…all because a creative genius was too scared to share their creations.
  • We’re deprived of inspiring messages that could uplift humanity and fill millions of people with hope…all because someone didn’t take the necessary steps to get their words out of their head and into the world.

Why don’t people share their gifts and messages?

Maybe some people don’t want to be seen as promoting themselves or “tooting their own horn.” Maybe they were taught to be modest, to play it safe, to play it small. Maybe they believe that seeking publicity is arrogant and egotistical. Maybe they just think that marketing is beneath them or that it’s not “pure” or “spiritual” or (and don’t discount this one)…“cool”!

Think this doesn’t apply to you?

Maybe you feel like you don’t have an “I Have a Dream” speech within you. To this I say two things:

  1. You’re right! You don’t! You have something new and different! (The world’s already heard that speech. Now we’re ready for yours!)
  2. It doesn’t matter! Even if your gift and your message isn’t destined to alter the course of human history, it can still positively affect hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even millions. Why deprive those people of the positive impact you might have on their lives? (And who knows what kind of ripple effect even an initially small impact might have over time?)

As John Lennon said:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

When you don’t share a dream (or a gift, a talent, or a message) it dies with you. When you do share it, it takes on a life of its own and lives forever.

By sharing his dream, Martin Luther King (like John Lennon and countless others) made his dream a reality.

I hope you’ll do the same.


What are your dreams, messages, or gifts? How can you share them with more people? What would the world lose if you didn’t…and what would we gain if you did?

P.S. Thanks again to Jon Morrow for ispiring this post! If you don’t know Jon, he’s a giant in the blogging world and a truly inspirational individual with an amazing personal story. Also, thanks to the phenomenal Mary Jaksch.

P.P.S. The dream lives on…

5 thoughts on “What if MLK spoke to an empty room?

  1. Wow, Dan, this is just what I needed to hear at just the moment I needed to hear it. As I move forward with my own dream of writing a book, I often find myself pausing and thinking, “Why does anyone want to hear what I have to say?” So I talk excitedly to my husband and friends and blog on my personal blog but I’m not moving the ball forward of inspiring people like I want to do. So, today’s a new day! Thank you for the kick in the pants I needed.
    Domini

    • Domini, your comment is exactly what I needed to hear, too! I’m in a similar place–also writing a blog and a book, talking about it with my wife, but often doubting myself and dragging my feet with the book. So knowing that you were inspired by something I wrote is a great reminder that, yes, people DO want to hear what we have to say! Thank you for sharing your words! Best wishes for you and your dream of writing your book–can’t wait for it to come true!

  2. Dan, what a great post, great question, and great thoughts! I think there’s also a very common reason why a lot of us don’t share our gifts: we don’t feel worthy of it. Why would anyone want to listen to me? I’m learning that it is through stretching myself to share despite the discomfort that others feeling similarly feels encouraged to do the same, as if seeing another doing it gives them permission to do so. So, if all of us were to own our gifts and share them, no matter how small it starts out (instead of King’s monumental speech), we’re all helping each other shine a little brighter. In turn, our world becomes brighter, too, with many more lights banding together. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Dan! I’m honored to know you!

    • Alice, thank you for your kind words and beautiful insights. They mean so much, especially coming from someone who knows how important it is to reach your dreams–and share them!
      Yes, I completely agree that by shining and sharing our gifts we give one another permission to do the same, even if we do it in very different ways. Sometimes watching beautiful dancing inspires me to write better–to stretch myself and share myself–even though it’s in a completely different medium.
      I’m honored to be able to contribute to this light. Thank you for doing the same!

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