Valerie Malla will be moderating Culturalism versus racism: What is the difference between them? How is our DNA connected to these concepts? at the Surrey Central Branch Library on Sept.11 as well as Racialized propaganda: how has this strategy affected modern times? What will it take to get past our radicalized underpinnings? at the Anvil Centre on Sept. 18.
Malla is at Simon Fraser University in the departments of philosophy and psychology. She has worked mainly in the legal field, but today contributes part of her time as a Life Coach.
The importance of being contemplative
Philosophy and philosophical discussions can contribute to society, says Malla. “The methods of philosophy get us to contemplate various aspects of our existence in a manner much broader than the usual limited thoughts we occupy ourselves with on familiar daily topics. When we practice being contemplative, without being overly-analytical, it frees our mind to consider different perspectives.”
Malla also believes that philosophical contemplation is key to becoming aware of our biases so that we can try to be more objective. Although she acknowledges that total objectivity is not possible, she thinks that with awareness and practice we can get a lot closer to being objective, which can then make a genuine difference on matters such as racism.
Using wisdom to navigate difficult conversations
As one of the moderators at the SFU Philosophers’ Café, Malla facilitates public discussions about culture, race, and building a more inclusive society. While discussion topics can sometimes be sensitive, she strives to create a non-hostile space for the exchange of ideas.
“It is unfortunate that there are no real ‘safe’ places for sympathetic and constructive dialogue about social issues where people know they will not be judged based on their perspectives,” comments Malla. She recounts incidents where even participants at the Philosophers’ Café were cautious about sharing their views or had their opinions dismissed for being politically incorrect. Rather than embracing such a manner of “non-dialogue,” she asserts that “we need to allow opposing views to be aired, and to allow for enquiry rather than conclusions.”
Instead of shying away from or evading discussions about certain social issues, Malla stresses that we should engage these conversations contemplatively. “With [ such] issues as difficult as racism, we need first to calm down, and then employ our higher faculties,” she advises. “And you don’t have to be a philosopher to do this – anyone can do it. It’s just wisdom.”
When asked what she thinks is the biggest obstacle preventing people from talking and learning more about race and racism, Malla stresses the importance of gaining wisdom through self-improvement. “Having respect, kindness, compassion, and sympathy are very natural human expressions,” she says. “We can only truly facilitate outwardly when we prioritize these qualities inwardly within ourselves.”
To build a better multicultural society, Malla asserts that “we have been multicultural since time immemorial, so we need to remember that.” Thoughts, emotions, and behaviour are a product of our inner/outer environment, she says, and “we have to be honest with ourselves instead of shifting blame or hiding from the truth so as not to live in a false context.”
Practicing this awareness and gaining wisdom from the thought process speaks to Malla’s belief that philosophical contemplation is applicable to our everyday life. “We are all philosophers practicing philosophy,” she says.“ This is a remarkable world in which we get to practice the strength and impact of our very presence and attention, as philosophers, in the everyday.”
For more information, please visit www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/about/program-units/philosophers-cafe/moderators/valerie-malla.html