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Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Quotes: The Appalling Silence and Words That Shape Destiny

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His words live on.

As our nation takes this day to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and all that he stood for, many of us are reflecting on his “I Have a Dream Speech,” and other  MLK quotes. Though Martin Luther King’s life was cut short, his words live on, and become more and more powerful as generation after generation of people hear them, read them, Google them, e-mail them, text them, share them, and live them.

As a writer, I find myself drawn to Martin Luther King’s quotes and speeches not just for their content, but for the cadence and the rhythm and the eloquence of his carefully chosen words. They are nothing short of poetry. This is a man who understood that words have weight. And that the words we project into the world can result in action. As I read his words, I’m reminded of another well-known quote:

“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.” — Author unknown

We all need to be careful of the words that we project into the world, whether in our everyday conversation, in a blog post, in an anonymous comment on a message board, or in the words that we choose when we speak to our children. Because words have power — and consequences. They have the potential to reverberate in people’s lives for years to come. As parents, we need to be especially mindful of the words we choose when we speak to our children. The good words and the bad words — the gushing praise and the hurtful words blurted out in a moment of anger — will be carried with them, long after we’re gone, and will no doubt shape their destiny.

But, as Martin Luther King reminds us, it’s the words we don’t say that have just as much power. Danielle highlighted this MLK quote today:

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

The appalling silence. For us parents, it’s quite possibly one of the most important things we can talk to our kids about today: When you witness an injustice, speak up. Speak out. But choose your words carefully.

That’s what I’m thinking about today, as a writer, a blogger, and a mother: Our words have weight. But only if we have the courage to put them out there.

Photo: Creative Commons/Flickr; by Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com, Martin Luther King, Jr. 1964 (source: Library of Congress)

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