We Will Remember Not the Words of Our Enemies, But the Silence of Our Friends

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

This quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found all over the internet, especially in posts and books about justice, civil rights, bullying, domestic violence, and mourning. What makes the quotation so popular is that everyone can relate to it to its meaning: what hurts the most are not malicious remarks from enemies — people we really don’t care about (“sticks and stones…”); but rather, what hurts the most is when friends, people you truly care about, say nothing to support you, to protect you, to speak up for you, or to provide comfort during difficult times in your life. King’s quotation, of course, is a variation on a familiar theme — recall that age-old adage, “Hard times will always reveal true friends.”

Like many quotations that abound on the internet, you will rarely find a full attribution for this quotation. We know Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and said this, but where can it be found? The source for this famous quotation is drawn from the “Steeler Lecture,” one of five lectures that King delivered in November 1967 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama for the Massey Lecture Series of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The lectures were soon published in a collection titled Conscience for Change. A year later, the book was republished under a new title, The Trumpet of Conscience.

The conflict, highlighted in King’s quotation, between speaking out (action) vs. not speaking out (inaction) goes all the way back to the Bible, specifically the Parable of the Good Samaritan found in the New Testament. The well-known parable evokes a simple, but very important question: if we went on a walk, how would we respond to a lone traveler lying by the side of the road — beaten, stripped of his clothing, deprived of food and water, and left to die? The parable presents us with two contrasting individuals: the bystander and the Good Samaritan. The bystander represents inaction: he sees a human in crisis and simply walks by, averting his eyes of clear pain and suffering, and ignores his obligation to help his fellow man. On the other hand, the Good Samaritan, representing action, shows compassion and helps the injured man, regardless of the victim’s beliefs and circumstances.

King’s observation also has some relation to one of the most famous quotations of modern times: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The quotation is often attributed to Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher; however, scholars who have carefully reviewed all of his writings have determined that he never wrote that. Nevertheless, at the heart of that quotation is, once again, the conflict of action vs. inaction. Expressed another way it states: if good people choose to be bystanders and not speak out or take action, then bad people will commit acts of evil. Recall another old adage: silence implies consent.

Another reason that King’s quotations about friends is important is because in the Golden Age of Social Media, the concept of friendship, which is elastic to begin with, has been stretched to the breaking point. Not every follower, “Facebook friend, or “digital” friend is actually a true friend — not even close. So in a time of crisis, those “digital” friends will not show support in a meaningful way. In this respect, King is not introducing an original concept, but rather he is building on a well-traveled road of proverbial wisdom. Here, for example, are just a few very popular proverbs (lacking any specific attribution) that focus on true friendship:

You don’t need a lot of friends, just the right ones.

As we grow older, we don’t lose friends, we just learn who the real ones are.

Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget.

True friends are friends for life.

True friends don’t talk bad about you.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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Riot is the Language of the Unheard

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating… But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”

More than 50 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was addressing the issues of the time — racism, poverty, and economic justice. This excerpt is from the speech titled “The Other America” that he delivered at Stanford University on April 14, 1967. Just ten days prior to that presentation, King criticized the government’s misguided efforts to address the poverty that crippled the nation: “If we spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an ill-conceived war in Vietnam and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, we can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet, right now.”

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Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
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 Wisdom of Martin Luther King
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For further reading: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm

The Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.

atkins-bookshelf-booksReflecting on history, economist John Galbraith once wrote, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.” That can certainly be said of Martin Luther King, Jr., a giant in the pantheon of great American leaders. Building on Galbraith’s observation, it can be argued that a truly great leader continues to speak to generations that transcend his own generation — and that is also certainly true of King. His powerful and poetic eloquence have reached and inspired entirely new generations; his words continue to resonate with people of every race, every nationality because they address profound universal truths about humanity.

And like many great leaders of history, King was standing on the shoulders of another giant, another great leader of men who changed the world — Mahatma Gandhi. In her insightful introduction to The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King discusses her husband’s great legacy in its proper philosophical context: “Martin always had a deep commitment to helping his fellow human beings. He told me that the turning point in his thinking about how to reconcile Christian pacifism with getting things done came while he was at the seminary, when he learned about the revered Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Martin later wrote… ‘Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective force on a large scale… It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months.'”

Like the teachings of Gandhi that continue to provide undiminished enlightenment in the modern world, the words of Martin Luther King continue to speak to us — reminding of us of our common humanity and challenging us to be better human beings by helping one another; in the unambiguous words of the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” In honor of the 50th anniversary of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Bookshelf presents the best books on the ageless words and wisdom of Martin Luther King:

The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. selected and with an Introduction by Coretta Scott King, Newmarket Press (1984)
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Companion selected by Coretta Scott King, St. Martins Press (1993)
Essential African American Wisdom edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi, Fall River Press (2009)
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James Washington, HarperOne (2003)

Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
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