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There are two aspects to this quote.
First, there is a way of looking at this from the perspective of the Civil Rights Movement. As King led this movement, he was aware of the fact that there would be setbacks. There was no way that the white leaders in the South would simply give African Americans the rights they wanted. It was also unlikely that everything the movement did would work just as it was supposed to. There would be disappointments along the way. Hopefully, though, these disappointments would be short-lived; they would be “finite.” Therefore, people should not lose hope in the idea that they would eventually win their ultimate (“infinite”) goals.
Second, since King was a minister, there is a religious way of looking at this quote as well. For a religious person like King, the phrase “infinite hope” should conjure up ideas of eternal life. This quote can also be interpreted to mean, then, that King wants to remind us that setbacks on Earth are temporary and that we should not lose sight of the fact that we should be hoping for an infinite and eternal reward in the afterlife.
The meaning of the quote "We must accept finite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope" by American civil-rights activist and minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is saying that, as the above educator rightfully noted, that disappointment is not forever. It will end at some point.
Infinite hope, especially for those with religious convictions, is the antidote to overcoming temporary disappointment and hindrances to one’s important goals. This infinite hope based on one’s religious beliefs is not a “pie in the sky” hope based on emotional feelings that have no strong foundation in facts. It is hope based on checking out and believing the facts regarding God and Jesus Christ’s existence and their many promises. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a minister and this is why he held to infinite hope - successful outcomes - despite temporary disappointments.
It is an infinite hope based on investigating and proving these truths, as the Bereans did during the times of the apostle Paul, as noted in the Bible:
And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. (Acts 17:11: New Living Translation)
Martin Luther King knew and understood that hardships would continue to befall the civil rights movement. He also knew and understood that personal hardship would dog him as his opponents continued their vicious attacks on him. He sensed that he might very well be assassinated, and he was, shortly after he expressed these thoughts. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
In the book “Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination – Robert Kennedy, National Security, the Mafia, and the Assassination of Martin Luther King (Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann – Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2008, pg. 565), it says that,
“One of the reasons his [Dr. King’s] wife, Coretta, rarely traveled with him was “to guarantee a surviving parent” in case he were attacked.
Dr. King knew what he was in for. However, he retained an infinite hope.
In addition, Dr. King could have also been generally referring (in the above- mentioned quote) to one accepting finite disappointment in everyday life as well. In one’s struggles to negotiate the trials of life, one must not let present disappointments keep him or her from striving for their right and lofty goals. People can learn from disappointments and use them as stepping stones to greater accomplishments. Having an infinite hope in the face of disappointments, while not an easy thing to do by any means, will result in achieving worthwhile goals when all is said and done, if one stays the course.
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