A discussion about the world today…with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., January 20, 2014 – As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to consider what guidance he might have for us today. The following is an interpretation of how such an interview might go, almost exclusively using words from his most famous quotes (which are italicized for clarity).

TJ: Dr. King, it is a pleasure to speak with you.

Dr. King: The pleasure is mine. Please, call me Martin.

TJ: Thank you, sir. You have had a profound effect on our Nation. While most Americans associate you with your civil rights efforts, many do not recognize your passion for the causes of education, peace, and life in general. You also have been quite astute in your observation of politics.

May we touch upon those subjects?

Dr. King: Most certainly.

TJ: Let’s start with the civil rights issues you championed. Because of your efforts and the eloquent “dream” you shared with our Nation, we have made significant strides in the area of civil rights. Yet, we still have miles to go on that journey. What do you think we need to do in that regard?

Dr. King: I would redirect our attention to the dreams you mentioned.

“I have a dream that one day this Nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’ … that (we) will one day live in a Nation where (we) will not be judged by the color of (our) skin but by the content of (our) character”

“With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our Nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free …”

TJ: During the 1960s, we experienced riots while trying to make progress toward those dreams. Do you see that as a necessary evil?

Dr. King: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win, and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”

Conversely, “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.”

“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

“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.”

TJ: If truth and unconditional love are the keys, how should the law play a role?

Dr. King: I believe “A right delayed is a right denied” … and that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Therefore “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.”

“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.”

In some circumstances, “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 the law.”

Correspondingly, there is a need to resolve our issues through intelligent understanding and civil discourse. “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.”

Once again, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”

TJ: You continually reference “love.” Would you expound upon that?

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

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

TJ: How do we educate people to begin to understand the importance of suppressing anger?

Dr. King: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.”

I fear that “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

TJ: Beyond the significance of your last statement with respect to civil rights, it would also seem to apply to the conflicts we see throughout the world. What is your perspective in that regard?

Dr. King: “The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

“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.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

“We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace.” This is because “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

“It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.”

TJ: Will our politicians ever recognize that fact?

Dr. King: (After a wry smile …) In the world of politics, “Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Personally, “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.” Unfortunately, the same may not be said for many of our politicians.

“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.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” However, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

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

TJ: Do you believe our current hyper-partisan divide is adding to the problem?

Dr. King: Do you remember “That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind(?) The time is always right to do the right thing.”

We should “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.” The “Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

“If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.”

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Our political Parties must do the same.

TJ: But the Parties work hard to shape the beliefs of their followers to attract money and votes.

Dr. King: That may be true, but “A lie cannot live,” and ultimately, “Seeing is not always believing.”

“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.”

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

TJ: That may be easier said than done. Politicians are hesitant to stand up to their Parties.

Dr. King: Yes, but “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” … and “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

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

“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.”

“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.”

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is as true for our politicians as it is for the rest of us.

Remember, “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict” … and “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

TJ: How do you maintain hope?

Dr. King: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

“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.”

“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.” I truly believe that “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better,” and so it shall remain.

TJ: What advice would you offer to help us through these challenging times?

Dr. King: “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

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

We must remember that “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.”

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

“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.”

And in the end, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

TJ: Is there hope for an idealist like me?

Dr. King: (Broadly smiling …) Of course, TJ. “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted,” which seems to describe you well.

TJ: Any final thoughts?

Dr. King:There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth” … for “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”

TJ: Thank you, Dr. King.

Dr. King: Please … call me Martin.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).