Searching for a meaningful quote or two from one of the most eloquent, thoughtful, and philanthropic minds the world has ever seen can be an exercise in futility. Because there aren’t enough from which to choose? No, no…quite the contrary. There are so many memorable, important, and inspiring thoughts that it’s extremely difficult to select just a couple of quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The man who inspired change and paved the way for the civil rights of African Americans decades ago still serves as an inspiration today, through his published words, thoughts, and speeches. In celebration of Dr. King’s birthday on January 18, we’ll take a look at some of his own words (some famous, others not) and how we can aspire to live those words to help make the world a more peaceful place for people of every color, race, gender, and religion.

To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., his importance, and his beliefs, read our blog article from last year here.

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

The meaning of these two similar quotes seems fairly straightforward. There’s always a good time to do good things. To live these words, one doesn’t have to move heaven and Earth to do good or to do right.

  • Small gestures, such as thanking someone for what they do (a clerk at a store, your mail carrier, a teacher) goes such a long way and inspires those people to pay that kindness forward.
  • Helping others is always the right thing to do in any situation, whether it’s standing up for a friend being bullied, donating some spare change to a local charity, offering a meal to the homeless, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or lending a helping hand to whomever you encounter.
  • Turn the other cheek. How many times did your parents tell you, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” When we’ve been wronged, the easiest thing to do is the wrong thing–but in Dr. King’s eyes, that’s not the solution. Sometimes, as difficult as it might be, turning the other cheek and walking away from a confrontation is the right thing to do.

“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.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. faced enormous challenges, adversity, and hardship at nearly every turn. And not mere inconveniences, either. Dr. King was confronted with death threats, violence, and physical and verbal abuse throughout his entire life. He obviously fell victim to it as well, as he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. But it’s how he stood in the face of danger and absorbed the punishment he did, without a hint of violence, all in the name of equality and civil rights. It was never about him, it was always about everyone. Dr. King truly believed that the world could attain peace and harmony and equality among all its citizens, and he fought for just that until the day he died.

How can we live his words? By not being afraid to stand up for what’s right. By rising to any challenge you face and taking it head on instead of letting someone else handle it. Rising to a challenge is never the easy choice, but many times it’s the right one. If you feel strongly about a topic or movement–civil rights, voting rights, animal rights, whatever your passion–stand up and make yourself heard by writing a letter to a local government official, peacefully demonstrating, raising awareness, or simply standing up for a friend.

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

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

It could be said that Martin Luther King, Jr’s life work was dedicated to helping others. Helping African Americans gain the rights that they long deserved. Helping spread peace and love to all people. Helping spread the message of equality. His entire life was shaped around the belief that helping others is the most important deed one can do.

And to emphasize the second quote here, it doesn’t take a grand gesture of goodwill for a human being to do something meaningful–similar to the first set of quotes in this article. Martin Luther King, Jr. may have done some really great things, but you don’t have to be MLK to make an impact. It might be as small as a hug for someone who’s down on their luck. It could be something as simple as a handwritten note of appreciation for a friend, relative, fellow student, or colleague. Or asking how someone’s day was. Or buying a coffee for a first responder or a veteran. It takes minimal effort or just some loose change to turn someone’s day around. Those are the small things, done great, that can ultimately make the world a better place, regardless of our differences.

This January 17 (and every day, for that matter), let’s reflect on these quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a moment and use them as inspiration to do our own good deeds and help others in any small way we’re able to–especially during such turbulent times.