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Among the great civil rights leaders of the twentieth century, it is difficult to think of any that rise above Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Here are some of my favorite quotes of his, and what those quotes mean to me.

Quotes from Dr. King and What They Mean to Me

As we celebrate this day the great American civil rights leader’s 87th birthday, it is appropriate to write about him. However, so much is already written about him, and in much greater detail than I care to delve into on my personal website. I don’t intend to compete with sites dedicated to thorough examination of people or ideas, but rather use it to document my thoughts and ideas on various topics.

Therefore, it is much more appropriate for me to cite some of my favorite quotes from Dr. King, and to expound on those quotes with commentary about what those quotes mean to me.

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

One element of wisdom is the ability to consider opposing viewpoints for truth without necessarily accepting or rejecting them. If the truth in the viewpoint is greater than that of our belief at the time of consideration, a wise person modifies his beliefs to accommodate that greater truth. Sometimes that modified belief results in the realization that what we once believed simply was incorrect or wrong.

To not consider other viewpoints for greater truths than those in our beliefs is prejudice. It is that plain and simple.

Prejudice people are not people who lack admirable qualities. Many are sincere and conscientious, which are both admirable qualities that denote a level of devotion. However, when those otherwise admirable qualities are matched up with lack of understanding (ignorance) and lack of good sense (stupidity), the person becomes dangerous. When they amass into groups of people who are sincerely ignorant and conscientiously stupid, they not only are dangerous to society, they are dangerous to freedom in the world.

We can use Muslims as an example in today’s world. Muslims who exercise sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity create danger to free society, as do those who exercise sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity against all Muslims without differentiating the radicals from the vast majority who want to live in, and contribute to, a peaceful society.

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"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

There is a saying that intelligence is knowing tomatoes are fruit; wisdom is not putting tomatoes in fruit salad.

American society is more divided today than at any other time in my life. It is, perhaps, more divided today than at any other time since the Civil War. It is not the fault of one side or the other. It is the fault of people in society thinking they are correct and that people who think differently are incorrect. People on both sides of most arguments taking place these days are guilty of taking a position based on shallow understanding.

"Correct" and "incorrect" are not synonomous with "right" and "wrong." To believe they are synonomous is also a belief based in shallow understanding, and that shallow understanding has plagued great thinkers from Socrates to Jesus Christ to Mahatma Gandhi to Dr. King. All of these people we have come to revere were thought of as odd, at the least, to rabble rousers, in the middle, and eventually as martyrs in the end.

Each of these people thought in terms of right and wrong. Each of these martyrs had their lives ended by people who thought in terms of correct and incorrect.

Few people in the world actually harbor intelligent thoughts of imposing evil upon the world. The vast majority of people, in fact almost all people, want good to prevail in the world. If that is true, then why is society more divided today than at any other time in my life?

Dr. King expressed that in his quote: it is the shallow understanding from people of good will, and it is more frustrating that people of good will do not attempt to have a greater understanding that "right" and "correct" are not the same things.

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"Unearned suffering is redemptive."

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in the hundredth year after the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. King gave his most famous speech which we have come to know as "I Have a Dream."

This quote was one short line from that famous speech, and, in my opinion, is so highly overlooked as one of his great quotes that I am passing over many of his more famous quotes to include it as the final quote in my article dedicated to this great man.

It is so powerful in its simplicity that it will have different meanings to different people, and even different meanings to each person. It is that way to me.

In its present form, it means to me that chastisement and ridicule may be the result of stating a great truth that is not generally accepted. It is the price one must pay for being responsible instead of succumbing to popularity, which, to me, is the opposite of responsibility. The universe does not care what is popular, for science is not democratic. What is truth is truth regardless of whether most people think it is truth or want it to be truth. Truth simply does not care about your opinion.

In its human form, it means to me that speaking the truth will eventually exonerate one who suffers for having spoken it or exemplified it. Again, we need only look at the great martyrs I mentioned earlier to see that popular opinion of the day was eventually overridden by greater understanding of that which was always true, but was not always popular.

In its Heavenly form, it means that which we are paid for while on Earth is not due us in Heaven. Though Heaven is not a concept I particularly believe in, Dr. King did. I do, however, believe in the concepts of being good merely for the sake of being good, doing right merely for the sake of doing right, and speaking truth merely for the sake of speaking truth. None of those may be popular; each of those is responsible. It always serves mankind to a greater degree for each of us to strive for responsibility rather than popularity.

It is in that magnificence that I regard this quote as one of his greatest quotes we were blessed by in the short thirty-nine years two months twenty days this great man graced us with his presence in human form.

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