“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This quotation is sometimes attributed to Harold Whitman, or Harold Thurman Whitman, but it was actually spoken by the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, to theologian Gil Bailie.
Bailie tells the story in the first paragraph of the “In Gratitude” section of his 1995 book, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company), on page xv. This is evidently the only place the quotation is in print:
“Once, when I was seeking the advice of Howard Thurman and talking to him at some length about what needed to be done in the world, he interrupted me and said, ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.'”
With all the suffering and chaos in the world, it can be tempting to numb ourselves, or pursue all kinds of activities to distract or amuse ourselves. Such breaks can be useful, and times of stillness and meditation or prayer offer powerful healing. As much as is possible, let us resist the impulse to escape. Let us rather enter the experience fully, and come so alive that we transform the moment with our own awareness. So may we be.