I find Frederick Douglass to be one of the most remarkable individuals. After escaping slavery himself, he went on to lead many abolitionist causes. This, in itself, is not all that remarkable. What I find so impressive is his wonderful oratory and the fact he was able to use his own story to serve the cause of bringing freedom to so many. He did this by writing a total of three autobiographies. His story of slavery cast a light on the horrors suffered by so many. He was able to do all of this by educating himself. He knew one of the best ways to demonstrate the absurdity of slavery was to serve as a counterexample of the enslavers’ argument that slaves lacked the intellectual ability to function as American citizens. In doing so, he spurred more change than had he lead a violent revolt, or turned sword and pistol on those who had enslaved him. In fact, by doing so, he would have actually lent credibility to their argument.
This may strike you, as it does me, a very powerful story from our past. It is much more than that. If we think of the racism, prejudice, and division that grips our world today, Frederick Douglass gives us a course to correct many of them. That is to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. This can be accomplished through educating and improving ourselves. We all represent more than just ourselves. We represent our city, our race, our faith, our political party and a million other associations we have. Fair or not, this is how it is. When we act in a manner that is less than our best, it reflects negatively on everything we represent. This is true whether we want it to be or not. Conversely, if we educate and evolve, it reflects positively on all we represent to others.
Another amazing thing about Frederick Douglass, was his understanding of the need to engage in meaningful dialogue with those who would oppose, or even enslave us. When people asked him how he could talk to enslavers, he would answer with the quote above, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” When we look at the current state of politics and social reform, it would seem the modern world could take a great lesson from Mr. Douglass. How about in your life? Are you willing to work with people you may not agree with if it will result in serving the greater good? Are you willing to go along with others in your group and not stand up in opposition even if you know it is wrong?
Frederick Douglass gave us a lot of great lessons. Two of which are the power education serves in freeing an individual. This is not only true of racial suppression, but freedom from economic slavery, ideological slavery, intellectual slavery and many other conditions that will keep us from rising to become the best versions of ourselves. If you find yourself held down, held back or held up from being all that you can be, the secret is education. This does not even have to be formal education. Daily visits to the local library can transform our lives and give us the power to rise above our current circumstances.
The second lesson from Frederick Douglass was the importance of engaging in meaningful dialogue with those we may view as our opposition. If we want to accomplish anything to serve the greater good, we must work together. It is a lesson not only for our world leaders, but for us to take into our own lives. This is how we solve disputes with coworkers, angry neighbors and any other situation we find ourselves in. I encourage you to study the life of Frederick Douglass and to read his autobiographies. It will not only be a great lesson in history, but you will learn many great lessons you can apply to your own life.