Martin Luther King, Jr. advanced racial equality, elimination of poverty, and reversal of a militaristic state through nonviolent civil disobedience. This moral means towards moral ends requires us to realize our intimate interrelatedness, and to love each human being regardless of our physical appearance, the institutions of which we are a part, what someone believes, how we behave, or any other attribute which propagates an “us” versus “them.” How can you love the person when you hate the deed? In honor of this persistent and urgent philosophy, here are King’s own words on the issue from a 1963 speech at the Western Michigan University. Consider the political and sociological intentions, as well as the possible personal and clinical applications, of this call to action.
“The world in which we live is geographically one. Now we are challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood… All life is interrelated, somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
“Criminal responses and other things like this are environmental and not racial. Economic deprivation, social isolation, ignorance, and poverty breed crime, whatever the racial group may be, and it is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it.”
“Nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice… It give the individual a method of struggling for moral ends through moral means… For there is another thing about this philosophy that says you can stand before an unjust system and resist it with all your might and yet maintain an attitude of active good will toward the perpetrators of that unjust system. So it goes on to say that the ethic of love can stand at the center of the nonviolent movement. Now when I talk about love at this point, people always have questions to raise… The Greek language comes out with the word, “agape.” Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is creative, understanding, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that this is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. He rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is the kind of love that can carry us through this period of transition. This is what we’ve tried to teach through this nonviolent discipline.”
“So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non‐cooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you… Be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. This is a nonviolent message.”
Thank you Karen Steinberg for posting the full transcript of King’s speech through the The Possibility Practice.