The Power of Emotion: Tapping into the Dream

“I have a dream!”

Four words that changed the course of American history.

I recently read that putting emotion into writing is the best way to get readers to take action. These four words grab the heartstrings and don’t let go.

First, let’s look at the situation Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists faced in 1963. There was legalized, institutionalized discrimination against people of color throughout the South. Even in the Northeast and “liberal” areas of America, African-Americans faced poverty, hopelessness, and the inability to escape a bleak future. People’s anger and frustration at the injustice and inaction were on the verge of violent eruption, something Dr. King definitely did not want. Even people of good intent needed a catalyst to move them off of the status quo.

Dr. King appealed to people’s logic, to their sense of morality, to history. Yet it wasn’t until almost the end of the speech that he connected with all Americans on the deepest level; he tapped into everyone’s desire for a better world.

“I have a dream!”

We all dream about a better future. We dream about having a good job, a nice home, love, a better education for our children, and the opportunity to freely choose our paths to a better tomorrow. This is why millions of people came (and still come) to the United States. This is the American dream.

In four short paragraphs, Dr. King masterfully interwove the deepest desires of all Americans, of all people, and connected them to a vision of what America could, and should, be. He made people see that we are all Americans, entitled to its promise and to be judged on our actions, not our appearance.

“I have a dream!”

It is 52 years later. I was too young to remember Dr. King’s speech. Yet when I hear or read those words, I can’t help getting a lump in my throat. I am an American and long for that ideal Dr. King described. I can see how great America can be, and I face the challenge to do what little I can to get it there for all people.

Time has not diminished that emotion. Time has only increased the power of those four, simple words.

“I have a dream!”


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