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5 Life Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King

5 Life Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King


January 15, 2010

#4: When Faced With Setbacks, Will You Stop or Move Forward?

Dr. King was arrested upwards of 20 times, his home bombed, and he was subject to a near constant stream of harassment and violence. Despite this, he used every setback and threat as an opportunity to reflect and act.

In 1963, following racially-motivated church bombings in the city, Dr. King shifted his focus on Birmingham. Leading demonstrations that resulted in police brutality against the non-violent protesters, King quickly realized that he’d be arrested in an attempt to break the movement. Conceding to arrest, and after one horrible evening in solitary confinement, he spent the nine days of his imprisonment crafting the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”


Instead of wallowing in the unjust arrest, or being frightened into giving up his cause, Dr. King’s 20-page response became a populist battle cry against injustice. Turning on phrases like “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” Dr. King parlayed his own personal setback into a greater motivator for an entire social cause. What’s even more exceptional is how he continued to move forward, despite having to do so against a constant tide of opposition.

#5: No Man Is An Island – You’ve Gotta Have Friends

Though he is remembered as a shining star and motivating force in the ‘60s civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was never alone in the struggle.

By effectively harnessing student organizations, church groups, and a considerable network of politicians and celebrities sympathetic to the cause, Dr. King was able to transform a sense of injustice into an actual movement. From forming bonds with the family of Gandhi to understand the principles of non-violence, to his willingness to soften his messages out of respect to President John F. Kennedy, he demonstrated how one can use their connections and learn from them to further their goals.

So What Can You Learn?

Beyond the lasting impact of Dr. King’s contribution to our society, his methods and reactions linger as important lessons that can be applied in any challenging situation. From confronting difficult relationships with peers to challenging accepted social norms to even overcoming personal tragedy, his is a living legacy of lessons that each of us can apply in our own lives.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
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