“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. said these words at a speech in Detroit on June 23, 1963. Less than five years later, he died for the cause to which he devoted his life: the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world through civil disobedience and other nonviolent resistance.
Today, as Americans commemorate Dr. King’s birthday, there are many ways we can honor his memory and build on his legacy. As much as King advanced the civil rights movement, there is still much to be done to fulfill his dream.
But I’d like to go back to the quote from his speech in Detroit. King’s words reveal a truth even deeper than his struggle for civil rights. They demand that we approach life with passion, that we live to do something more than pass the time.
In the face of pressing day-to-day responsibilities, it is easy to fall into a reactive rhythm, doing what we have to do and then using what time is left to escape into oblivion. For many of us, passion may feel like a nice-to-have, something to think about after we’ve cleared out our queues and gotten a full night of sleep — only to wake up and find that the queue is full again. It is easy to go through life like Sisyphus, sweating profusely as we roll our boulders but lacking the intellectual ambition to question why we make those efforts.
Today, the least we can do to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. is to reflect on his personal passion to leave the world better than he found it. Hopefully none of us will ever have to make the sacrifice that he made to realize his dream. But if we do not dare to dream at all — if we are not passionate and ambitious about what do — then, indeed, we are not fit to live.
Dare to dream — and live to make that dream a reality.