3 Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To Put Into Practice — Starting Now

Photo: The Associated Press
The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr
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Every year on the third Monday of January, we the people of the United States of America honor the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrating not only his birthday (which falls on January 15), but his legacy of non-violent activism in service of the Civil Rights Movement.

Officially named the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (and more often referred to as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, King Day, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or MLK Day), in 1994, federal legislation transformed the national holiday into the Martin Luther King Day of Service, "the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities."

We're all aware of the greatness of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ways in which he helped revolutionize the world with his message of Civil Rights and justice for all. But on this day, and at this particular time in history, it's critical that we view this day as an opportunity to consider not only what Dr. King himself was able to achieve in his lifetime, but the lessons we can learn from him in order to grow as individuals, as partners, as community members and most simply, as human beings.

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Not sure where to start?

Here are three key lessons from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. you can put into practice in order to be of service to others (and therefore, to yourself).

3 Key Life Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. Have a dream.

Dr. King dreamed of the seemingly impossible during a time when there appeared to be insurmountable odds against his dream becoming a reality. Although Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t live to see many of his dreams become a reality, we all enjoy benefits of his courage to dream in one way or another.

Many of us are still unclear on what it means to love and be loved unconditionally. If you are searching for more meaningful connections with others, whether romantically, politically, professionally, or on any other level, it's important to keep in mind that no matter how dismal things may seem or how much hate and anger the world seems to be consumed by, you can — and must — continue to dream of a better, more peaceful and loving future.

If you can dream it, you can attract it and create a new reality that improves life for yourself and for others.

2. Love creates the momentum needed to continue in the face of adversity.

Dr. King did not intend to become a leader; he became one because there were people who needed him. What kept him moving forward even in the face of horrible conditions was the compelling love he had in his heart for all people. His love for and connection to the people he served acted as the wind beneath his wings that kept him afloat in the face of adversity.

We must all face life and its many challenges with this same tenacity. No matter how many times you have been hurt or disappointed, you must love yourself and your fellow humans enough to embody what it is you believe true love looks like. Then stay in the game until you attract it.

If you can feel the love you want to attract in your heart, you will create a powerful magnet for pulling your dreams closer.

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3. Emotional intelligence is courageous — and powerful.

Dr. King was both a naturally intelligent and well-educated man. He graduated from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology when he was just 19 years old, received his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary at the age of 21, and completed his Ph.D. in systemic theology at Boston University at 26.

But it is clear from early on that King understood book learning is far from enough when it comes to defining intelligence.

In 1947, then 18-year-old King published an essay called “The Purpose of Education" in Morehouse College's student newspaper, the Maroon Tiger, in which he wrote, "We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education."

Inspired by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he referred to as "the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change," Dr. King, his wife Coretta Scott King, and his colleague Lawrence Reddick embarked on a 5-week tour of India in 1959.

Upon their return, Dr. King wrote account of their journey for Ebony Magazine, in which he shared the following story:

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"I was delighted that the Gandhians accepted us with open arms. They praised our experiment with the non-violent resistance technique at Montgomery... To them as to me it also suggests that non-violent resistance when planned and positive in action can work effectively even under totalitarian regimes.

"We argued this point at some length with the groups of African students who are today studying in India. They felt that non-violent resistance could only work in a situation where the resisters had a potential ally in the conscience of the opponent. We soon discovered that they, like many others, tended to confuse passive resistance with non-resistance. This is completely wrong. True non-violent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.

"Non-violent resistance does call for love, but it is not a sentimental love. It is a very stern love that would organize itself into collective action to right a wrong by taking on itself suffering. While I understand the reasons why oppressed people often turn to violence in their struggle for freedom, it is my firm belief that the crusade for independence and human dignity that is now reaching a climax in Africa will have a more positive effect on the world, if it is waged along the lines that were first demonstrated in that continent by Gandhi himself."

Dr. King understood that in order to affect positive radical change, we must fight those base impulses that would lead us toward destruction and strive to come from a place of higher love and emotional intelligence.

When you understand this on a deep, emotional level and feel the love in your heart for your fellow humans, you will be able to achieve meaningful change in your own life and the lives of others.

Find courage in the words and lessons shared by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and dream your wildest dreams into reality!

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Shay Levister is a certified dating and relationship coach, matchmaker, and Certified NLP Practitioner who is passionate about helping to empower people of all ages to not settle for less than the love they deserve.