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MLK and Agape- A Short Message of Love in Troubling Times


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Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object… Agape is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both. If one loves an individual merely on account of his friendliness, he loves him for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship, rather than for the friend’s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution. Source: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/01/martin-luther-king-jr-an-experiment-in-love/

I recently read about the Ancient Greek concept of Agape, which MLK adopted in his pillars of non-violent protest, and have remained rather struck by it. Love for the oppressor exists because the oppressor too is hurting. Violence hurts both sides- the perpetrator and the victim. This love does not mean that you must embrace and love him on a personal basis, but merely that you recognize him as a fellow human.

This philosophy echoes Mahatma Gandhi’s tenet of nonviolence:

Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all–children, young men and women or grown-up people, provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When nonviolence is accepted as the law of life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts. Source: http://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/phil1.htm

In troubling times, it is good to keep love in our heart- perhaps it is partly a coping mechanism and in that capacity, not everyone will be equally open to it. At any rate, agape does not seem an easy sort of love- compared to the romantic love, or the love for family or friends, or a mother’s love- agape is intensely difficult to achieve when you have been violated and when you think something is unfair.

But agape offers hope because it purifies the mind and body of toxic emotions. Perhaps agape is a cultivated strategy for overcoming grief, hurt, hopelessness, anger and replacing it with “disinterested love”. Perhaps agape is indifference and forgiveness.

I have been trying to practice something close to indifferent forgiveness for years in my life and agape seems like a faint glow of hope in that effort. I know very little about it- but I will strive to learn more. I think we all need agape because responding to hate with hate will not really lead us where we want to go as a ‘civilizing’ species.

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2 thoughts on “MLK and Agape- A Short Message of Love in Troubling Times

  1. Satyavachan! Moreover, agape is a path for moral purification, exhaustion of our identity which many times is the cause of conflicts. Eros and Philo does the work of distinguishing while agape, assimilation. The former gives rise to duality while the latter to singularity.

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