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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ “

Today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m sharing my favorite quote. Lookout, Hemingway, it’s an entire philosophy in six words.

Still, the context and full passage of this quote is worth considering. It’s from It’s from the 1963 collection “Strength to Love,” which included a sermon titled “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”

It goes:

“In a sense every day is judgment day, and we, through our deeds and words, our silence and speech, are constantly writing in the Book of Life. Light has come into the world, and every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

“The light of creative altruism”


“the darkness of destructive selfishness”

I love that. When you know the whole quote, the question almost stops being a debatable one, doesn’t it?

I mean, how could someone justify choosing “destructive selfishness” over “creative altruism”?

But of course at times we all do this. We indulge. We backslide. We vacillate. We excuse. We forget. We get busy.

And we do these things for natural reasons, because we are human, because we are frail, because we are unwise, because we are influenced.

And so King’s question remains relevant, and always will.

Persistently: “What are you doing for others?”

Because of our frailty, because of our distractibility; that’s why the question must be asked not just once, but persistently.

Urgently: “What are you doing for others?”

As our technology and our connectivity and our control over the world grows, we do not have the luxury of waiting a thousand years to answer it. Indeed, we may not have the luxury of waiting a decade to answer it. That’s why the question must be asked urgently.

It must be asked of ourselves. It must be asked of each other. It must be asked of our children, of our elders, of our leaders.

It is the burning question of today.

“Every day is judgment day.”

We cannot escape the consequences of our actions, of our words, of our silence.

What are you doing for others?

What am I doing for others?

What are we doing for others?

What have you done?

What will you do?

What needs doing?

What needs to end?

“Light has come into the world”—knowledge, equality, justice, compassion, love—and it exists, it persists, because of all of humanity’s collaborative efforts.

How are you (we) fueling the light of creative altruism?

How are we (you) facing down destructive selfishness?

There will never be another King; that’s not how this works.

But we can study him and we can all try to be just a little more like him.

We can all do a little more for others.

We can all fuel a little bit more light, and face down a little selfishness.

MLK Jr. Day is our annual opportunity to remember and learn more about this man and the values he lived and preached.

Today and tomorrow and every day, it behooves us to ask ourself the question he posed:

“What are you doing for others?”



Previous entry:
Living in Each Moment

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