Each morning, I send a subscription email called Big Optimism. It includes a reflection on a timely motivational quote, plus a few other things to encourage positive thinking during the day.
Today was among the hardest days to put it together. Why? Because it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which made it a real challenge to pick the right quote. Dr. King had a command of language, a gift for cadence and delivery, and an ability to turn straightforward prose into timeless poetry.
We had to pick just a single quote for Big Optimism ... but we have more room here. So since this would have been Dr. King's 87th birthday, here are 87 inspiring quotes from the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
1. "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
2. "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
3. "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
4. "Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it."
5. "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
6. "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
7. "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
8. "Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better."
9. "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."
10. "There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth."
11. "When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative."
12. "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."
13. "It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society."
14. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
15. "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear."
16. "The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'"
17. "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."
18. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
19. "A right delayed is a right denied."
20. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
21. "The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt."
22. "If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive."
23. "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
24. "Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows."
25. "It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it."
26. "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."
27. "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."
28. "I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good."
29. "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
30. "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."
31. "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
32. "That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing."
33. "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal."
34. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
35. "We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive."
36. "If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."
37. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
38. "A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan."
39. "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."
40. "The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."
41. "Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself."
42. "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
43. "Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals."
44. "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood."
45. "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
46. "Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control."
47. "The sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality."
48. "Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial."
49. "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."
50. "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend."
51. "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."
52. "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."
53. "A riot is the language of the unheard."
54. "The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one."
55. "Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see."
56. "I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."
57. "Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one's soul."
58. "We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace."
59. "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
60. "I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land."
61. "I want to be the white man's brother, not his brother-in-law."
62. "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?"
63. "The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice."
64. "Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."
65. "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."
66. "Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them."
67. "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."
68. "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important."
69. "Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude."
70. "There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love."
71. "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."
72. "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
73. "The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
74. "All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."
75. "At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love."
76. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
77. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
78. "Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness."
79. "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."
80. "Nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity."
81. "Seeing is not always believing."
82. "Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress."
83. "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."
84. "Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek."
85. "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."
86. "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."
87. "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."