“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.“ ~Martin Luther king, Jr.
A life of meaning and purpose is a life that has the potential for a very deep sort of happiness. Such lives of meaning are worthy of both celebration and of emulation.
And so in celebration of the life of the man who most personified the 1960s Civil Rights movement, whose name is almost synonymous with that era, who risked all and consecrated the movement he helped start with his very blood, I give you 5 life-changing quotes by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Five Powerful Quotes by Martin Luther King
1. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Even if I knew no one would ever read what I wrote here, I would still write it. I would declare truth even if no one listened. I would do what I believed was right even if no one was watching.
I would do it because I would be doing what my soul cries out to do. And in that obedience to the promptings of my soul, I would be fulfilling the deepest part of my calling here on earth. To do otherwise would be to deny my most basic self, to hide my inner most passion in the back closet of things I never got around to.
2. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”
Some will be leaders of nations and others will raise a wonderful family. One will discover the cure for cancer and another will serve on the local PTA. One will run a Fortune 500 corporation employing tens of thousands while another will hire two part-time employees to help the family business. Some will solve societal ills. Others will solve their own.
It’s not so much what we do as how we do it that matters. Some people’s circles of influence are large, reaching millions or more. Others hardly extend into the next room. But the meaningful life is in the content, not the extent. A life of purpose cares less about numbers–the extent to which you change the world–and more about quality of the change, less about greatness and more about goodness.
Besides, it doesn’t matter how big the task, how deep and intractable the problem or how overwhelming circumstances are, something can always be done to chip away at life’s challenges. Many small things make big things big. Do the small things in great ways and, in time, you’ll be doing great things.
3. “One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized, cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
In a day and age when people go on daytime talk-shows and reality TV to publicly display their dirtiest laundry, when shame seems to have faded to an altogether different era, it seems that dignity is being given away by the handful by a generation that doesn’t value it much.
Honesty and openness and authenticity may be good things in most cases, but to be honestly and authentically rude, shallow and indecent hardly seems a virtue. Perhaps what’s on the stage of our lives should be worked on before worrying too much about the volume of the microphone or the setting of the spotlight. (Tweet)
4. “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Hate is a virus that spreads like wildfire. It burns and consumes and destroys. It damages cultures and ruins relationships and corrupts hearts and decays character and ransacks souls.
Hatred is dark and smothering and implosive, crashing everything around it down on top of itself. It drives people to do the unthinkable and gives the object of hate such tremendous power over the hater.
The hater often becomes fixated on the hated. They give up control of their thoughts and motives, their passion and attitude, their peace and happiness to the very person or people they perceive to have wronged them. And yet they feed that power. And it grows until peace, happiness, will power and human decency are all but distant memories of a time before hate drove them out.
Love, on the other hand, cools the passion of hate, heals wounds inflicted by its venom, motivates change and delivers freedom to those previously imprisoned behind the bars of hatred.
5. “Almost always the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.”
Most people don’t start revolutions. Most people don’t make waves. Most people don’t speak up. Most people don’t even vote here in the U.S. in most elections.
But there are always some handful of people who see the world differently, as a stage on which to perform some great drama, initiate some great change, do some great work with great passion that shifts the world on its axis and sends it rotating in the other moral, social, scientific, technological, medical or political direction, that lifts and inspires and blesses a generation or even an era.
We don’t all have to be the faces and names of such sea-changes. Most of us won’t be. And that’s okay. But we can join good causes that help spark cultural revolutions in human decency or spur them forward, even if we never extend our reach further than our next door neighbor with a single act of kindness.
So even if we can influence no more than the handful of people we know well, then that part of the world will still have been changed. And as any change to a recipe ultimately changes the flavor of the dish, so we will have changed the world by changing that particular part of it as well.
And that’s not a bad way to live a life.
Before you go, watch this short excerpt from MLK’s famous I Have a Dream speech:
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Photo by Ron Cogswell