4 Virtues of Martin Luther King Jr. That We Can Learn From

January 17, 2020

Dr. & Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr.,1964., World Telegram & Sun photo by Herman Hiller

By Graham Ray

As Martin Luther King Day arrives, it’s time to reflect on the remarkable man for which the day is named, along with his message. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideas and dreams live on, and the extraordinary way he lived his life can inspire us today, more than 50 years after his death. Though he displayed many admirable qualities throughout his tragically short life, four exemplary virtues of Martin Luther King stand out from the rest.

Perseverance

Martin Luther King’s cause was not one destined to bring about instant results. The United States of the 1960s was a deeply divided nation. The South was still entrenched in deep-seated segregation and the ugly bigotry of the Jim Crow laws. As a result, Dr. King had to wait many years and overcome loads of obstacles to make progress toward his goals. Many of his some of his peers, including Malcolm X, began to advocate for change “by any means necessary”, including violence. However, King refused to compromise his core principle of nonviolent resistance. A lesser man might have been discouraged by the lack of immediate progress, but Dr. King was undeterred. “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Love

Faced with vitriolic animosity and unfettered hatred, King consistently turned to love above all. In situations where it would be completely understandable to react in anger, Dr. King turned the other cheek. As a devout Christian and ordained minister, King often echoed the words of Jesus Christ regarding love. Some of the most famous sermons King delivered were titled “Loving Your Enemies” and “Levels of Love.” Dr. King’s memorable quotes often included powerful references to love.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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

Martin Luther King, Jr at a press conference ,1964 June 8, World Telegram & Sun photo by Walter Albertin.

Mayor Wagner greets Dr. & Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr. at City Hall, 1964., World Telegram & Sun photo by Phil Stanziola.

Courage

King faced enormous resistance and opposition to his teachings and his movement. Throughout his time as a leader in the civil rights movement, he encountered countless threats of violence and legal repercussions. Toward the end of his life, King spoke out emphatically against America’s conduct in the Vietnam War. This was an unpopular stance that created more enemies than friends, especially among his liberal allies. None of these obstacles prevented King from continuing to speak his mind. Ultimately, he would lose his life to a hateful zealot who sought to silence King forever. King’s courage in the face of overwhelming danger remains an inspiration to all of us who deal with adversity and experience fear.

Selflessness

At his core, Martin Luther King, Jr. targeted his words and deeds toward effecting change not for himself, but for the millions affected during his lifetime, along with future generations. He knew that he would never get to see the fruits of his labors, the personal fulfillment of his dreams. Dr. King dedicated his life to his dreams—a life lived for others. He was fully aware that he was sacrificing his own life and safety for the well-being of others. His last sermon in Memphis emphasized his belief that he likely wouldn’t witness the change he fought for.

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … And He’s allowed me to go up 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.”

Martin Luther King, 1929-1968, WIN Magazine, Brooklyn, N.Y. ; photo by Francine Winham ; design by Nancy Philo.

As we commemorate Martin Luther King Day, it’s worth taking a moment consider one of the great men in our nation’s history. In the process, we might just find some inspiration to apply some of his ideals to our own lives. Especially at BrandStar, where our primary purpose is the make a positive impact on people’s lives, we’d do well to employ the most benevolent virtues of Martin Luther King.

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