Martin Luther King’s teachings about civil disobedience

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another,” Martin Luther King Jr.

As February is Black History Month, members of SFU’s Philosophers’ Café are conducting a discussion related to Martin Luther King’s teachings about civil disobedience on Feb. 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the Surrey City Centre Library.

For the discussion, What did Martin Luther King Jr teach us about civil disobedience?, the Philosophers’ Café moderator, Valerie Malla, will introduce Martin Luther King’s work to discuss how it made an impact socially and on an individual level. She will also talk about how King’s work is meaningful and what the public learnt from him.

“Martin Luther King was very influenced by Ghandi’s work, and talking a little bit about the pattern of non-resistance might come up,” she says.

According to Malla, civil disobedience has to do with justice. One must speak for oneself and trust that their thoughts are right and based on ‘goodness, purity and an objective moral value.’

“But civil disobedience is understood to be a non-violent method of resistance by civilians toward social change,” Malla adds.

Martin Luther King and civil disobedience

Martin Luther King Jr. was identified with nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience as he worked to overturn systemic segregation and racism, and advance civil rights across the southern United States.

“Martin Luther King made a massive impact not just on American folks but on world culture,” Malla comments.

Valerie Malla will moderate the SFU philosopher’s cafe around the legacy of Martin Luther King. | Photo by Curtis Yacboski

She states that Martin Luther King Jr. was very influential because he was very connected to himself; he was focused on his work and his studies. King didn’t seem to allow miscellaneous things to distract him from his goals.

“He had a number of really great qualities. He was a wonderful orator. He was very sensitive. He was very genuine,” Malla adds. “He was incredibly intelligent, and he was able to incorporate a broad-spectrum viewpoint into his argument. It was easy for people to trust in him, because he was speaking their truth.”

Malla believes that, from the beginning of the 20th century, non-violent campaigns have better outcomes and success rates compared to violent campaigns. The aftermath of the peaceful campaigns is also not as severe when compared to violent campaigns.

“Peaceful demonstrations or non-violent demonstrations actually tend to produce more democratic politics, whereas violent campaigns tend to produce authoritarian type of politics,” she explains.

About the cafés

SFU’s Philosophers’ Café is a series of informal public discussions that was started in 1998 by SFU members. The program has engaged the interests of scholars, seniors, students, philosophers, and non-philosophers through thought-provoking, interesting conversations, and expressions of opinion.

“There is no real formality to attend,” Malla mentions. “We just get together as a community. They are all free events, and we just have a conversation about the topic.”

SFU’s Philosophers’ Café has different moderators for their topics, and the discussions are conducted all over the Greater Vancouver area.

“Moderators chosen for the SFU’s Philosophers’ Café are interested in their topics of choice, are knowledgeable about them, or have otherwise researched the topic,” Malla says.

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