Carmen shared with us a couple great Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes in her Occupy Healthcare post on Monday, and it inspired me to take a look at some of Dr. King’s other quotations. So many of them captured concepts relevant to public health that I wanted to share some of my favorites here. Here’s hoping we can take some of Dr. King’s wisdom and apply it to our work!
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.”
I think this quote truly captures the essence of public health – public health isn’t about treating individuals with band-aids or quick fixes; it is about protecting health and saving lives– hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions at a time – by restructuring the systems that produce sickness, violence, and other problems that ail our society.
“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.”
Indeed, we often see programs and initiatives implemented without nearly enough strategic planning and thought to sustainability, input from communities, constructive criticism, and/or evaluation (formative or post-program evaluation). Public health work (any work, really) is difficult and nuanced. We have to think hard and critically about what works and what doesn’t, and whether we are helping, hurting, or making no difference at all. At the risk of repeating myself one too many times – good intentions are not enough.
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Speaking of good intentions not being enough – I think we all owe it to ourselves and society to not rest upon the fact that we are at least trying to help, but to undertake our work with “painstaking excellence”. If we’re going to try to do this, let’s try to do it right.
“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
I have to admit, this quote made me laugh. And it’s a good point – laws and policies have their limitations, but they are also an incredibly powerful tool for change, particularly at the level of populations and systems. I recently came across the Network for Public Health Law, and particularly love their overview of different public health topics.
And lastly, a quote from Dr. King that speaks for itself:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”