I like this week’s “quote,” Buzzkillers, because it’s history is full of all the things we’ve been talking about on this show — phrases and sentiments that “sound” like they were said by a prominent person so “they must be from him,” misplaced (or moved) punctuation marks, and the glorious and rapid assumptions displayed on social media that keep the Buzzkill Institute swimming in cash.

I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a clear and touching expression of true pacifism, and is certainly the type of thing that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have said. But he didn’t. What he did say about hate, death, and killing was this:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

It appears that Dr. King used this sentiment in sermons in the late 1950s, and it was published in his 1963 book, Strength to Love (which we’ve put on the Buzzkill Bookshelf). But the “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives…” sentiment actually comes from someone else.

That someone else is Jessica Dovey, who wrote, “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy,” as her Facebook status in 2011 when she heard of the death of Osama Bin Laden. It was her conception, the words were her construction, and it’s her quote. But she added one of her favorite quotations from Martin Luther King to her statement, and, as any good Buzzkiller would do, she put quotation marks around what MLK had written and gave him credit for that quotation. Her words stood, of course, without quotation marks as her own introduction to the MLK quote.

Facebook friends of Ms. Dovey liked the quote, and forwarded it to their friends, and pasted it on their Facebook pages. As you can imagine, Buzzkillers, it eventually went out to thousands of people, and then thousands of their friends, and so on and so on. At some stage, apparently pretty early on, the quote marks were stripped out. Jessica Dovey’s beginning “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives…” all the way through Martin Luther King’s ending “…Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” became one long and virtuous quote credited to Dr. King.

All of you know what a heartless negaholic I am, but I’m a sucker for stories like this. It makes me think of the Gandhi “Be the change you wish to see in the world” actually coming from Arleen Lorrance, a Brooklyn schoolteacher who we discussed in Quote or No Quote number 2. Not only do these quotes show the wisdom of “everyday” people, they show the ways in which common wisdom isn’t good enough for us as a society. For some reason, we have a need to attach wise words to people we think are worthy of them. Gandhi is a magnet for these kinds of things, as is Martin Luther King. And, of course, the history of how these ideas drift towards major historical figures is often fascinating. But, for now, let’s raise a glass to Ms. Dovey. It takes quite a thoughtful person to come up with “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one not even an enemy.”

Buzzkill Bookshelf: