The ideas of peace, love, hard work and understanding are core elements of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And on this day, when we recognize not only the man but also the impact he had on us as a country, I think it is important to reflect on some of his words. Here are five quotes that have stuck out to me for various reasons.
“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead and the unborn could do it no better.”
There’s something to be said for having pride in your work, but also to recognize your talents. But that phrase “life’s work” gets me. How many of us know what that is? Have you discovered that yet? Are you ignoring it? Are you working toward it? It’s not an easy answer, but one worth pursuing. We are all blessed with the talent to impact our environment. It is our choice whether to do it positively, negatively or indifferently.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. … I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
“Unarmed truth” and “unconditional love.” Sometimes those can be a tall order. If our goal is indeed peace and brotherhood, then we have to think about our approach to ideas and each other. Are we arming ourselves with truth simply to be right or to actually achieve the goal of peace and understanding. The difference matters.
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
Nonviolence is more than not committing violent acts. It is also about reigning in the spirit. We pay attention to a lot of the external factors in our environment because it is what we can see or hear. However, our spirit dictates so much of what we see and demands our attention.
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
In this day and age, there is a tendency to rush stories, to rush decisions, to rush judgement. However, we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to stop and think, and to avoid cutting corners. Actually think actions through and consider the consequences. When you consider half-baked solutions usually lend themselves to re-thinking, why not think it through the first time?
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
When confronted with negativity, our easiest reaction is to return suit, but does that solve anything? You can’t out-dark darkness and you can’t out-hate hate. Adding the negative to the negative simply compounds the problem. While it may sound cliché and while it may consequently sound cheesy, light and love are the strongest weapons in our arsenal.
We’ve made a lot of progress since Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech at the feet of Abraham Lincoln’s memorial, but we shouldn’t stop dreaming yet.
A version of this first appeared on Tales from the Poop Deck.