Dr. Martin Luther King’s Thoughts on Thinking


The quest began with a personal need to get back to writing for Poking Around with Mary, long abandoned when life interfered. Because I have been trying so hard to get a grip on a new job I have lacked both time and spirit to poke, much less to think, much less to write.

Knowing that it’s African American History Month I have longed for a chance to poke around the stories and resources I have gathered in better days.  My head teeming with disjointed ideas I kept trying without success to focus on that special theme or idea that might inspire me and inform others.

Today as I rifled aimlessly through the turgid backwater of paper, emails, post-its, phone messages and minutiae on my digital desk, this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King surfaced:

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking.  There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions.  Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Dr. King’s observation that “nothing pains some people more than having to think” gave me pause.  I posed the question to myself:  Are we as a voting public, am I as a voter, complacently surrendering this democracy simply because we are pain resistant?  Do we the people settle for “easy answers and half-baked solutions?”  Worse, are we relinquishing the power of the people to forces that are only too willing to endure the fleeting pain of thinking for the long-term gain of seizing power?

The corollary lies in another of Dr. King’s prophetic quotes:

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think crtitically.  Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.  (emphasis mine)

Madison, Jefferson, Thomas Paine and others of their ilk enjoyed good educations, amassed impressive libraries, lived privileged lives that afforded them time, skills and tools to think. As men of intelligence and character, they made the most of the opportunity.  Fortunately for us, they thought through the long-term implications of their action. The took time to engage in meaningful dialog.  They weighed their options and considered the consequences of  governing, authority, checks and balances, the public accountability of the government they forged.  They underscored the big ideas, including that fundamental principle that the printing press was a protected public good essential to an informed – and thinking – citizenry.

As we all know, there were some gaps in their thinking about who was qualified to engage in the process, a topic to ponder another day.   Still, their idea of sharing the power with an informed public was both solid and challenging.   The challenge today is to think about how a diverse citizenry with a range of skills, an infinite array of resources, the communications and information tools of the day – can embrace the challenge – and set aside the time – to think.

Monday is President’s Day, originally intended to commemorate the contributions of our forbearers. The day also offers a rare opportunity for those of intelligence and character to think long and deep about how best to nurture this fragile democracy.

Dr. King adds this relevant thought:     “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”


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