The Drum Major Instinct

Author

King, Jr., Martin Luther

Genre

Speech

Overview

In this famous sermon, delivered only two months before his death in 1968 and considered by some to be his eulogy, King explains that we all have in us "a kind of drum major instinct, a desire to be out front" leading the parade. Instead of saying that we should squelch this selfish impulse he instead attempts to wed it to the idea of service: "If you want to be important--wonderful. If you want to be recognized--wonderful. If you want to be great--wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness." In this same sermon, King also claims that everyone can serve, an assertion that brings into question what it means to be a servant leader, who service most benefits, and what it means to have an inclusive definition of “who can serve.”

Full Text*

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Type

Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.

Themes

Exclusion and BelongingFaith and BeliefJustice and EqualityLeadership and ResponsibilityLove and CompassionMoney and WealthMotives and ValuesPower and PrivilegeRace, Ethnicity and CultureServing and VolunteeringSocial and Political Change

Big Questions

What makes a good leader?How do we define love? How do we show love?Do acts of service lead to social change?Can one person change the world?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why does King think that the desire to be first is a problem? Does he think that there is a solution to this problem?
  2. According to King, what is the relation between the drum major instinct and the race problem?
  3. What does King mean when he says that the drum major instinct is good “if you use it right”?
  4. What is the “new norm of greatness” that King invokes? According to King, how can everybody be great?
  5. For King, what is the relation between death and service?
  6. How does King finally help us understand what we can do to “make of this old world a new world”?
  7. How would you/do you convince others to serve?
  8. Does everyone have the capacity to serve? Why or why not?
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