It was today in 1965 that Malcolm X was gunned down while delivering a speech in a New York City ballroom. Perhaps the most controversial of the Civil Rights leaders, Malcolm was a complicated man. His early life was defined by crime, liqueur and violence and it was a story that ended, as it ends for so many, in a prison cell.
But in that cell, Malcolm Little, as he was then called, picked up a book…and then another book…and then another. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book,” he would say later. In fact, he would come to refer to “books” rather than college as his “alma mater.”
We don’t know if Malcolm read the Stoics as some Civil Rights leaders did, but we know that he drank deeply from history and philosophy and religion and as a result, he came to at least one conclusion that sounds like it could have come from Marcus or Seneca or Epictetus.
“There is no better than adversity,” he said. “Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
It’s true. The impediment to action advances action. The obstacle is the way.
We need to understand this simple but completely counterintuitive idea, and then we need to impute it onto our DNA and mind. Because, to paraphrase Malcolm, when we change our philosophy we change our attitude and when we change our attitude, we change our actions.
And then, as he did, we can change ourselves and change the world.
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