Dr. King Still Inspires: Transforming Anger Into Action

Dr. King Still Inspires: Transforming Anger Into Action

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Rafael Ramos. Wenjian Liu. These names, just four among numerous civilians and police violently slain in the United States in recent months, have provoked anger, fear, anxiety, and despair across the country. Some people rage blindly, failing to see the “other side” as fully human. Yet tens of thousands more have transformed their anger into peaceful protest as they demand justice and stand up for humanity.

Such emotional alchemy was part of the life’s work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the legendary civil rights leader who led black and whites infuriated by racist laws and customs to transform the United States through nonviolent means. The ability to transform injustice-fueled anger into peaceful, constructive action is the essence of emotional intelligence, and it is just as necessary today as it was in Dr. King’s time. Indeed, it is at times like these that we at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence feel most keenly the urgency of the work we do.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Center helps people build effective emotion-regulation strategies, equipping them to transform powerful emotions like anger into action that targets unjust systems. Our personnel travel around the world empowering educators with tools to ensure our schools are not only physically but also emotionally safe spaces.

We do this because we share Dr. King’s dream of a more just society, a place where all are safe regardless of skin color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or body shape. With schools our training grounds, we work to equip educators and youth with the skills to recognize when someone else is upset so that they can offer a helping hand, to resolve conflict peacefully, to empathize with others–and to truly see other people.

Emotions matter. Their power has been on full display in the streets, schools, and news lately. As readers reflect during Dr. King’s birthday on his work and legacy, we at the Center offer RULER, our approach to social and emotional learning, as a lens through which to examine the anger so many have felt in the past few months. RULER is an acronym that stands for the five essential skills of emotional intelligence.

At the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, our hope is that the people of this country transform their anger at police-related deaths into action, driving out hatred with love and understanding, just as they did in Dr. King’s time.

Explore the full range of emotions in this short animation.


  Dena Simmons, Associate Director of School Initiatives


  Lori Nathanson, Director of Research