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Inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes to Make Sense of Our Challenging Times

Some sixty years later, MLK Jr.'s words haven't lost any of their power.

It’s been a wild year, one that’s been filled with conflict over growing economic inequality, as well as claims of harmful racial biases at the highest levels of government power. This is all particularly concerning, considering the year is only two weeks old… and the American Civil Rights Movement is about sixty years old. Yet, here we are.

It seems that, despite one of the most fraught election cycles in US history ending more than two months ago, the political and social divisions that were incited are unlikely to heal any time soon. It’s a challenging place to be no matter what your political persuasion, with nothing less than the future of democracy and equal rights seemingly at stake in the eyes of many.

All of this makes today’s remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. that much more poignant. Martin Luther King Jr. is of course the Atlanta, Georgia-born Baptist minister birthed in 1929 who found himself a central figure in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Dr. King was tragically assassinated in 1968, but he remains roundly celebrated today thanks to his fervent advocacy of advancing civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience.

He also probably could have Aced even the most challenging Public Speaking 101 course:

It’s both a testament to Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquence and wisdom, as well as perhaps a depressing reminder of the bitterness of racial divisions, that Dr. King’s words are so potent, but they’ve certainly not lost their power to inspire over the years. So, as we usher in a new year and a new government power structure all amidst an increasingly interconnected world, let’s ruminate on some of Dr. King’s most moving and incisive quotes:

Martin Luther King Jr. on Education:

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.

Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.

MLK Jr. On Confronting Injustice:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

MLK Jr. On Hope and Faith:

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

MLK Jr. On Combatting Racism:

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.

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

MLK Jr. On Social Activism:

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

A riot is the language of the unheard.

If I wish to compose or write or pray or preach well, I must be angry. Then all the blood in my veins is stirred, and my understanding is sharpened.

…And the Need for Peaceful Resistance:

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Finally, MLK Jr. On Doing Good Work… Every Day:

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.

The time is always right to do what is right.

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Long-shot third parties are everywhere this season. That says something about Americans’ perspective on the economy.