"Now let’s turn for the moment to the length of life. I said that this is the dimension of life where we are concerned with developing our inner powers. (Yeah) In a sense this is the selfish dimension of life. There is such a thing as rational and healthy self-interest. (Yeah) A great Jewish rabbi, the late Joshua Leibman, wrote a book some years ago entitled Peace of Mind. And he has a chapter in that book entitled "Love Thyself Properly." And what he says in that chapter, in substance, is that before you can love other selves adequately, you’ve got to love your own self properly. (All right) You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. (That’s right) And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself.
And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself. (All right) So many people are busy trying to be somebody else. (That’s right) God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. (Yeah) That means everything. (Yeah) Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black. (Yes, sir) A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, "I am somebody. (Yes) I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful." (Yeah) This is what we’ve got to say. We’ve got to accept ourselves. (Yeah) And we must pray, "Lord, Help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools." (Yeah)
I remember when I was in college, I majored in sociology, and all sociology majors had to take a course that was required called statistics. And statistics can be very complicated. You’ve got to have a mathematical mind, a real knowledge of geometry, and you’ve got to know how to find the mean, the mode, and the median. I never will forget. I took this course and I had a fellow classmate who could just work that stuff out, you know. And he could do his homework in about an hour. We would often go to the lab or the workshop, and he would just work it out in about an hour, and it was over for him. And I was trying to do what he was doing; I was trying to do mine in an hour. And the more I tried to do it in an hour, the more I was flunking out in the course. And I had to come to a very hard conclusion. I had to sit down and say, "Now, Martin Luther King, Leif Cane has a better mind than you." (That’s right) Sometimes you have to acknowledge that. (That’s right) And I had to say to myself, "Now, he may be able to do it in an hour, but it takes me two or three hours to do it." I was not willing to accept myself. I was not willing to accept my tools and my limitations. (Yeah)
But you know in life we’re called upon to do this. A Ford car trying to be a Cadillac is absurd, but if a Ford will accept itself as a Ford, (All right) it can do many things that a Cadillac could never do: it can get in parking spaces that a Cadillac can never get in. [laughter] And in life some of us are Fords and some of us are Cadillacs. (Yes) Moses says in "Green Pastures," "Lord, I ain’t much, but I is all I got." [laughter] The principle of self-acceptance is a basic principle in life.
Now the other thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. (Oh yeah) And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems. (Yeah) And after we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better. (Oh yeah) Now this does not mean that everybody will do the so-called big, recognized things of life. Very few people will rise to the heights of genius in the arts and the sciences; very few collectively will rise to certain professions. Most of us will have to be content to work in the fields and in the factories and on the streets. But we must see the dignity of all labor. (That’s right)
When I was in Montgomery, Alabama, I went to a shoe shop quite often, known as the Gordon Shoe Shop. And there was a fellow in there that used to shine my shoes, and it was just an experience to witness this fellow shining my shoes. He would get that rag, you know, and he could bring music out of it. And I said to myself, "This fellow has a Ph.D. in shoe shining." (That’s right)
What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."
And when you do this, when you do this, you’ve mastered the length of life."If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill
Be a scrub in the valley—but be
The best little scrub on the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway just be a trail
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or fail—
Be the best of whatever you are.