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The Ways to Inspire Change

September 17, 2010

Change can be achieved through many different methods of inspiration. From an idea to a speech, a speech to a following, a following to a movement, a movement to a revolution, some form of inspiration inspires change. Both Socrates and Martin Luther King Junior (MLK) embarked on a process to inspire change. Socrates paved the way for civil disobedience, MLK perfected the method of non-violent civil disobedience; both achieved change by opposing what was unjust and inspiring their fellow citizens to pursue the truth.  Yet while MLK’s path for change involved rebelling and winning his argument against the majority, Socrates’s path was quite journey of self sacrifice. Socrates and Martin Luther King Junior both begin to achieve the same purpose: to catalyze their fellow citizens in transitioning from a period of ignorance to a time of enlightenment. Both hope their actions will inspire change, their cause will initiate a new era, their ideals will create freedom for the oppressed. However, while Martin Luther King needs to issue change by winning his argument, Socrates hopes to issue change by loosing his argument. Their purpose is one, yet their methods are foils. MLK argues to reform through an inspiring win; Socrates argues to inspire by his own tragic loss.

Socrates and MLK take juxtaposing approaches to ensure their message will inspire. MLK advocates there are two types of laws: just and unjust laws. Unjust laws, he claims “ is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey, but does not make binding on itself.” MLK believes he has a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. In order to commence change, Martin Luther King Junior must break and defy unjust laws, and accept the punishment for breaking the laws. He acknowledges the fact he willingly breaks laws, and states, “one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” Conversely, Socrates must comply with unjust laws in order to inspire his fellow Athenians.  He first difference with King begins in his belief that “A man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public, life is he is to survive even for a short time” (32a). Further, within his argument to the court he, unlike King, denies breaking any law and finds roundabout, insufficient arguments to plead his case. When confronted by Crito, he defends the laws in his famous speech of laws, although he does not believe the laws are just. However, Socrates knows that disobeying the laws will not inspire his fellow citizens, Socrates knows that embracing the fact he breaks laws in pursuit of freedom and truth will not inspire his fellow citizens, Socrates knows that he must sacrifice his own life and comply with unjust laws to inspire his fellow citizens. While MLK openly breaks, fights, and defies unjust laws in order to inspire change, Socrates must comply and regard unjust laws in order to inspire change.

Both Socrates and MLK achieve the same goal of inspiring change in their fellow citizens. While Socrates’s plight was one of self-sacrifice, ambiguous arguments, and compliance with the majority, Socrates inspired a world where civil disobedience was possible and effective. Martin Luther King Junior notes Socrates’s success and he observes, “To a degree, academic freedom is a reality to day because Socrates practiced civil disobedience”. While Martin Luther King Junior is equally successful in his path for change, his was one of defiance of unjust laws, sound, emotionally appealing arguments, and a fight against the majority. Regardless of contrasting methods, both Socrates and Martin Luther King Junior demonstrated that change through many different courses of action.


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