“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek”: The day Martin Luther King was punched twice by a Nazi

Brad Pierce's Blog

According to Ron Rosenbaum interviewing MLK biographer Taylor Branch about his “battle to prevent Dr. King’s profoundly considered theory of nonviolence from being relegated to history, and not recognized for its relevance to the issues America and the world faces today”

King’s practice, Branch says, was complex and radical and has been often misunderstood. Some of his closest supporters had their doubts about King’s own commitment to nonviolence—whether it was “personal” or just an abstraction for him.

During a meeting of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a man rose up from the audience, leapt onto the stage and smashed King in the face. Punched him hard. And then punched him again.

After the first punch, Branch recounts, King just dropped his hands and stood there, allowed the assailant (who turned out to be a member of the American Nazi Party) to punch him again. And when King’s associates tried…

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Making the best of a bad interruption

According to Edwin Bliss

Amount of time spent on a project is not what counts: it’s the amount of uninterrupted time.


One of the most prolific of modern novelists was […] Georges Simeon. [His] method was to cut himself off completely from the outside world while working on a book: no phone calls, no visitors, no newspaper, no mail; living, as he said, ‘like a monk’. After about eleven days of total immersion in his writing he would emerge with another best-selling novel.

Few of us would carry concentration to that extreme – but what if we did, who knows what we might accomplish.

Stephen B. Jenkins wrote an excellent article (with a boring title) called “Concerning Interruptions” on the huge cost of interruptions to the productivity of computer programmers and gave practical advice on how to reduce that cost. (Strongly recommended read.)

For the historical context, a good source is Christine Rosen’s “The Myth of Multitasking“.

Making the best of a bad interruption

On longer time scales, when you must drop something for a while, it’s important, before doing so, to leave behind enough context for yourself to swap it back in. Write down some organized notes about where you were, what still needed to be done, etc. Keeping a log can be a big help, too, but it’s not a substitute for a high-level summary before suspending the task.

(For programming in particular, when you consider that you will need to revisit most computer code someday in the future, this is also a selfish reason to build a legacy of great comments and documentation.)

A good mental model for suspending a task is to leave behind the sort of information that you would need to hand it off to another person to finish.

Pretend that you are handing off the task to another person and you will be going away on a long vacation and unavailable to answer further questions, because when you come back to the task you will effectively be that other person.

Swapping in a new context is very expensive. Saving your state well when you suspend is actually much, much cheaper overall, assuming that you’ll need to come back to the task eventually.

This is one reason it’s important to write your to-do list at the end of the working day, instead of waiting until the start of the next working day.

“Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship.”

According to Kare Anderson in “What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life

A few years ago, DisneyWorld executives were wondering what most captured the attention of toddlers and infants at their theme park and hotels in Orlando, Florida. So they hired me and a cultural anthropologist to observe them as they passed by all the costumed cast members, animated creatures, twirling rides, sweet-smelling snacks, and colorful toys. But after a couple of hours of close observation, we realized that what most captured the young children’s attention wasn’t Disney-conjured magic. Instead it was their parents’ cell phones, especially when the parents were using them.

Those kids clearly understood what held their parents’ attention — and they wanted it too. Cell phones were enticing action centers of their world as they observed it. When parents were using their phones, they were not paying complete attention to their children.

Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship. It is impossible to communicate, much less bond, with someone who can’t or won’t focus on you. At the same time, we often fail to realize how what we focus on comes to control our thoughts, our actions, and indeed, our very lives.

Don’t confuse what your priorities should be with what your priorities are.

Your priorities are objectively measurable by how many resources you invest in them, such as, money, effort, attention, thought, creativity, planning, concentration, pain, care and time.

Changing your priorities means reallocating your resources.

Self-discipline is congruence between your priorities and your deepest needs.

Of course, we all know how hard it can be to invest short-term pain for long-term gain. As I write here

A key to happiness is doing what you don’t enjoy. (That is, doing cheerfully and promptly what must be done but is not pleasant.)

But don’t underestimate the challenge of achieving awareness of your deepest needs.

It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else

Cognitive capacity is a scarce resource. The struggle of poverty drains it away like a regressive tax. According to Sendhil Mullainathan

Our results suggest that when you’re poor, money is not the only thing in short supply. Cognitive capacity is also stretched thin. That’s not to say that poor people are less intelligent than others. What we show is that the same person experiencing poverty suffers a cognitive deficit as opposed to when they’re not experiencing poverty. It’s also wrong to suggest that someone’s cognitive capacity has gotten smaller because they’re poor. In fact, what happens is that your effective capacity gets smaller, because you have all these other things on your mind, you have less mind to give to everything else.

Imagine you’re sitting in front of a computer, and it’s just incredibly slow. But then you realize that it’s working in the background to play a huge video that’s downloading. It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else, so it seems slow to you. I think that’s the heart of what we’re trying to say.

But what if the poor are only the most outrageous example of such societal intelligence wasting? Which video is your own, more fortunate, brain downloading right now? What could you achieve if you could just kill that background process somehow?

Update: Shalom in the comments gave another great example of misfortune forcibly taking over your mental resources.

People with severe health problems in the family are also hard-pressed to concentrate on constructive activities.

See also “How multitasking messes with your brain” and “Keep thinking, think of it everyday“.

Aside: How can we break out of the consensus trance and stop brooding cuckoo eggs?

Distinguishing to-do lists from could-do lists

Following up to “Don’t write your to-do list at the start of the day, write it at the end of the day“, “You are never going to get caught up“, and “What’s the #1 thing you should be doing right now?“.

To keep yourself focused on your current #1 priority, it’s useful to allow an outlet for ideas and anxieties that bubble up to your consciousness while working on your current #1.

Keep a “could-do” list nearby, and add items to it as they occur to you. For example, you could use the notepad on a mobile phone — in meetings, on walks, at dinner. It only takes a few moments, and after the idea is safely stored away, you can forget about it for a while and continue to attend to the main event.

Don’t confuse this with your “to-do list”, which is a short list of commitments that you’re going to do in the next 24 hours.

Your “could-do list” is the ore you pan for “to-do” gold.

Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things

According to Steve Jobs (Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997)

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Brick walls

According to Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

So that was a bit of a setback. But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don’t bail. The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.

Aside: According to Leon Lukaszewicz in “On the Beginnings of Computer Development in Poland

Our job, although very stimulating, was poorly paid. It was quite easy to obtain a salary twice as high in industry and also be alloted a flat, which in those days of the acute housing problem mattered a great deal. We turned to [mathematician] Professor [Kazimierz] Kuratowski [the director of the Institute of Mathematics in Warsaw] with our grievances. He answered that “low salaries are a severe but necessary test of a genuine dedication to science of young research workers. If the salaries were high, what sort of people would we get here?” His arguments were not entirely convincing for us, but of course no one quit the Institute we adored. It should also be added that, some time later, some of us, already “tested,” were allotted the flats we and our families had dreamt about.

The real heroism of leadership

According to Ronald Heifetz

The real heroism of leadership involves having the courage to face reality — and helping the people around you to face reality. It’s no accident that the word “vision” refers to our capacity to see. Of course, in business, vision has come to mean something abstract or even inspirational. But the quality of any vision depends on its accuracy, not just on its appeal or on how imaginative it is.

Mustering the courage to interrogate reality is a central function of a leader. And that requires the courage to face three realities at once. First, what values do we stand for — and are there gaps between those values and how we actually behave? Second, what are the skills and talents of our company — and are there gaps between those resources and what the market demands? Third, what opportunities does the future hold — and are there gaps between those opportunities and our ability to capitalize on them?

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Leaders don’t answer those questions themselves. That’s the old definition of leadership: The leader has the answers — the vision — and everything else is a sales job to persuade people to sign up for it. Leaders certainly provide direction. But that often means posing well-structured questions, rather than offering definitive answers. Imagine the differences in behavior between leaders who operate with the idea that “leadership means influencing the organization to follow the leader’s vision” and those who operate with the idea that “leadership means influencing the organization to face its problems and to live into its opportunities.” That second idea — mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges — is what defines the new job of the leader.

According to Howard F. Stein and Seth Allcorn, “The unreality principle and deregulation: a psychocultural exploration”, The Journal of Psychohistory 38 (1) Summer 2010, pp. 27-48.

Most recently Chris Hedges (2009) has written Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. He writes that “A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. … And we are dying now. … Those who cling to fantasy in times of despair and turmoil inevitably turn to demagogues and charlatans to entertain and reassure them. …”


American society’s very adaptation to reality and future adaptability are in question. John Ralston Saul writes that “Equilibrium is dependent on our recognition of reality, which is the acceptance of permanent psychic discomfort. And the acceptance of psychic discomfort is the acceptance of consciousness” … The opposite … lies in the “refusal to recognize the reality of society” … An imaginary, virtually hallucinated, alternate reality, “replaces” the reality of society. Hatred of thinking itself and of emotions becomes the foundation of the inability to “learn from experience” … .

In a similar vein Gordon Lawrence writes that psychosis in general is “the process whereby humans defend themselves from understanding the meaning and significance of reality, because they regard such knowledge as painful … To do this they use aspects of their mental functioning to destroy, in various degrees, the very process of thinking that would put them in touch with reality” … . Not only do individuals do this, but organizations and whole cultures as well. The flight from distressing experience grounded in reality into unreality comes to be preferred, even required, over recognition and acceptance of reality. (We owe the insights in this paragraph to Dr. Burkard Sievers …).

Unreality may gain expression if not hegemony in culturual ideology, religious dogma, political propaganda, and even economic policy. It may be propounded by leaders who are “true believers” or manipulative opportunists.

The first chapter in Robert J. Ringer’s Million Dollar Habits is “The Reality Habit”. In the subsection “A World of Delusions”, he writes

To paraphrase author Robert DeRopp, man inhabits a world of delusions, which obscures reality and creates dangers for himself and others. He rarely understands what he is doing or why he is doing it. His actions and beliefs indicate that he lives in a state of waking dreams.

The most obvious motivation for one person to delude another is personal gain. In some cases, the delusion involves deceit (clandestine in nature); in others, honest overzealousness (innocent in nature). But regardless of the intent, the consequences are the same: you are deluded into believing something that isn’t true. You are persuaded to ignore reality and accept an untruth in its place.

In addition to being deluded by others, there is also the problem of self-delusion. The results of this destructive practice can be devastating, ranging from mental illness to financial failure to war. Therefore, anyone who is serious about achieving meaningful financial results — or meaningful results of any kind — must develop the habit of carefully examining his own premises and beliefs to make certain he is not feeding himself a diet sprinkled too heavily with the spice of self-delusion.


An old marketing axiom states: If you want to do well, sell people what they need; if you want to get rich, sell people what they want. How? Simple. Just invite the prospect to do something realistic like “Come to Marlboro Country.”


Try to sell people what they need, and you’re liable to end up in bankruptcy court.

On the other hand, your success is very much dependent on your commitment to develop the habit of not straying too far from reality, so you don’t become a victim of such delusions.

Your only lever to move the world is to move yourself

According to Jonathan Mead

The biggest benefit to working on a revolution is that it gives you an insane amount of energy.

According to Tolstoy

There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.

The only lever you have to significantly improve the world is to improve yourself.

That doesn’t mean beating yourself up, or changing your essence. Your essence is OK. It’s just the bad habits, rough edges, priorities that need straightening out.

According to Jules Buccieri

And (magic fact) if you aren’t real, you aren’t powerful.

Improving yourself gets to the root of the problems that are in your power to fix and enables you to engage effectively with the world.

Looked at another way, you’re your most valuable capital asset. Your brain, your skills, your sharpness, your knowledge, your health and appearance, etc.

When I moved out of a townhouse a few years ago after ten years residence, the wooden floor in the kitchen still looked new and the roses were big and full of flowers. But what is the asset of a townhouse compared with the asset of me or you? Yet, we all fill that asset with poison of one kind or another, such as alcohol, stress, caffeine, pornography, mindless entertainment. (Don’t “choose your poison”, choose life.) And we forgo the physical and mental training that we need to maintain and grow ourselves.

Instead, with the right priorities, we could grow healthier, stronger, smarter, and more skillful each day. (Of course, you also need a thrilling purpose. On what should you set loose this glorious machine? It’s seem unlikely you could get and sustain that “insane amount of energy” without a compelling purpose.)

According to Joseph Epstein

Some years ago I read a brilliant essay called “Prosaics,” by Gary Saul Morson, a teacher of Russian literature at Northwestern University, in which he showed how Tolstoy believed in the prosaic life and Dostoyevsky in the dramatic.

Things happen to Tolstoy’s characters — they go to war, have vastly disruptive love affairs, suffer unexpected deaths — but they are most interesting in their ordinariness: a strong case in point is Natasha’s family, the Rostovs, in War and Peace. Her brother and father and mother, with their rich but normal passions, appetites and family loves, are people who gain moral stature through an endless series of small acts.

In Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, nothing is ordinary: passions turn into obsessions; gambling addicts and epileptics are at the center of things; men are beating horses to death on the Nevsky Prospect; poverty has wrenched people’s lives into little hells on earth. The question isn’t really who — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky — is the greater novelist, for both are great, but which shows life as it is more truly is.

As Professor Morson puts it: “Dostoyevsky believed that lives are decided at critical moments, and he therefore described the world as driven by sudden eruptions from the unconscious. By contrast, Tolstoy insisted that although we may imagine our lives are decided at important and intense moments of choice, in fact our choices are shaped by the whole climate of our minds, which themselves result from countless small decisions at ordinary moments.” At some point in life, I think, one has to decide if one is, in one’s belief in the shape of his or her life, a Dostoyevskian or a Tolstoyian.

Is your life decided at critical moments, suddenly erupting from the unconscious? Or is your life shaped from countless small decisions at ordinary moments?

The power of positive action

According to Jim Grady on Facebook

“If you want to change your behavior focus on the thinking that causes it.” ~~ Brahma Kumaris”

I commented

If you want to change your thinking, focus on positive actions. “Move your ass and your mind will follow.”

Background: According to Funkadelic

Free your mind and your ass will follow.

You may be just as likely to free your mind by moving your ass. The power of positive action.

According to Knarf Rellöm Trinity,

Move your ass and your mind will follow.

New Year’s Resolution Syndrome — the best day really is today

According to Robert J. Ringer

Above all, don’t allow yourself to be lulled into the New Year’s Resolution Syndrome, rationalizing away each wasted day by thinking, “I’m going to work on improving my efficiency starting the first of the year,” or, “I’m going to start making ten sales calls a day beginning next month,” or, “I’m going to start working on that project as soon as I get everything else under control.” The New Year’s Resolution Syndrome […] is the antithesis of living in the present, and leads only to a life of endless procrastination.

The time to start becoming efficient is today. The time to make a sales call is today. The time to start working on a project is today. And the time to start picking up the pieces and begin over again is today. Develop the habit of living in the present. The best day really is today, so get started now, no matter what your problems are and no matter how long you’ve already procrastinated.


The Time is Never Right

Talk about a procrastinator’s dream, this is it—probably the most insidious of all obstacles to taking action. If you’re waiting for everything to be just right before taking action, you are in possession of a foolproof excuse for failure. […] Conditions are never right at the right time; the timing is always wrong.

When people cling to the excuse that the time isn’t right to do something, it’s often because, as mentioned earlier, they are emotionalizing the word hard and confusing it with the word impossible. It’s not impossible to change occupations right now; just hard. It’s not impossible to move to another city right now; just hard. It’s not impossible to terminate a bad partnership right now; just hard. The tendency to see hard as impossible is closely tied to the tendency to resist change. Don’t delude yourself into believing that just because something is hard, it’s impossible.

[…] It’s important to understand that the opportunity available to you at any given time will never be the perfect opportunity. Again, life doesn’t work that way.