published Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The quiet strength of doing right

By Dalton Roberts

Twenty years ago I bought a book titled "Twenty-Seven Translations of the Bible." Actually, it is not 27 translations but the best of 27 translations. I would never part with that book.

One verse came to life for me when I was having my morning coffee. It reads, "He who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger."

Surely you have noticed a quiet strength in people who simply live good lives. Just to be in their presence is to have strength and goodness imparted to us.

We recently celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday. He was killed in Memphis, but each year he grows stronger and stronger. The power of his words made a tiny little black woman named Rosa Parks refuse to move to the back of a bus and cower down like a worthless, inferior person. King's words made her realize she was a worthy, valuable person. The power imparted to us by King and Parks makes people stand and risk their lives for justice.

I shall forever be grateful to my Republican father. I never heard him say a disparaging word about anyone of any color or culture. I was never around many black people until I went to college, and some students from Knoxville College were trying to integrate a lunch counter at a big drugstore downtown. The management had turned off the lunch-counter lights.

I was cashing out and asked the clerk what was going on and she said, "It's a sit-in of students who want us to serve them." I said, "Why don't you serve them?" She said, "It's because of their color."

My father's example made me grow stronger and stronger, and I told the manager, "If I ever come in here again and you are refusing to serve anyone of any color, I'll just go somewhere else."

The greatest power of all truths comes when they are personalized. I saw the highest meaning of that verse was that a person who has clean hands becomes stronger and stronger inside. Inside their own being.

Every time we do right just because it is right, we strengthen the muscles in our own souls. We sense the presence of everyone who has ever done the right thing just because it was the right thing. They are with us. Their strength becomes our strength.

Once we experience that quiet inner strength -- and we do experience it every time we do the right thing, even in the smallest decisions -- we cannot be satisfied to blithely stand by while people are mistreated. And it's not necessarily a religious thing.

Former Chattanooga Times columnist Barney Morgan told me when he was a small boy he saw a black sailor in line for a movie ticket. When the sailor got to the window, they wouldn't sell him a ticket. Barney said, "I saw how this man was willing to go die for us but couldn't even go to a movie. I stepped out of the line and went home."

He stood for what he thought was right until it became not second nature to him but his primary nature. When he worked on my staff, I would sometimes ask his opinion about an issue I faced. He'd always say, "Do what you think is right."

E-mail Dalton Roberts at

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