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Martin Luther King And Love

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It is rather difficult to speak of love in an original sense today. If someone were to ask an individual to define love, a common response would be, "love cannot be explained, it cannot be defined". This answer would be acceptable if love was equally felt for and between all people. But anyone would have to agree to the fact that there are different degrees and levels of love. Someone would not love his or her family members the same way they would his or her spouse. Love varies between different levels of action and feeling, and a definition of each level must be discovered in order to understand its varying power. Martin Luther King Jr. felt the need to address this particular issue when discussing the principles behind the non-violent student movement for civil rights. King felt that a working idea of love was the keystone to the philosophy of a non-violent protest. Turning to the Greek language and idea of love, King was able to define three particular levels, eros, philia, and agape. His goal was to take one of these three levels and use it as the definitive quality of the non-violent movement.

The non-violent philosophy was not a movement of pacifism to Martin Luther King, it was one of action. Absolute strength was apparent in its practice, but how? The student movement caused many of its' participants to be severely beaten, chastised, and arrested, only to continue while never fighting back. Why were they doing this? King felt the answer was that through their actions they would awaken not only the majority, but more importantly the minority to the need for equal rights. Apathy had set in among both groups causing them to accept the current state of affairs, and like the great "gadfly" Socrates, King and the students were forcing both groups to wake up and open their eyes.

First, to get back on track, it is important to look at the three separate levels of love, and it would make sense to first look at eros. Eros is a romantic love, the kind of love one would have towards a beautiful object, or person. It is that sexual drive that is most apparent at the early stages of a relationship. This could be considered to be the first definition people would think of when questioned about the meaning of love. In fact in a more layman attempt at understanding eros one can think of the feeling one has during a crush, where a person's affections are aimed at a single individual. This is an infatuation with a beloved, where the lover expects the feeling to be reciprocal, but as is often the case, the feeling of attraction and love is not returned by the beloved when dealing with eros. This is precisely why King feels that eros is not an adequate definition of the love that someone should possess when struggling for a non-violent resolution. It would be both impractical and dangerous for those practicing non-violence. First, it is difficult to have a strong attraction or infatuation with someone while getting beat. Secondly in a non-violent protest one's body will most likely be subjected substantial amounts of physical abuse. But eros can also cause severe emotional damage to those who feel strongly for someone, but those feelings are not returned. This just makes no sense when dealing within a non-violent protest.

Next, it would be beneficial to look at philia as a definition for understanding love. Unlike eros, philia is reciprocal in nature; it can best be described as the love between friends and family members. Philia lacks the physical attraction and infatuation that is standard in eros. In fact philia works on the idea that an individual loves because that individual is loved by someone else, for example, the feeling felt between soldiers in battle could be described as philia, where one solider will always protect another, because he or she knows that another soldier is ready to do the same. It is a very powerful level of love because of its reciprocal nature; it offers a sense of protection and comfort knowing that as long as one loves they will be loved in return. Unfortunately this is also its weakness in King's plan for protestors. It is very difficult for non-violent protestors to feel philia for those individuals who are beating and harassing them. The love is not reciprocal, no matter how much non-violent protestor may love those who oppress, philia, like eros, will most likely never be returned.

It is important now to mention that although eros, philia, and agape are all Greek words, only eros and philia would have been understood in the context of love to the Greeks of Athens. Agape is a word of Christian origin, and would have been foreign to

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