Betty Reardon & The Ikeda Center: An Experiment in Alternative Thinking about Global Issues

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(Reposted from: Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue)

Over the course of the spring/summer of 2017, the Ikeda Center worked with feminist peace educator and civil society activist Betty Reardon to plan a two-part seminar series for Boston-area university students. With Daisaku Ikeda’s annual peace proposals as a guide, students will consider creative modes of responding to and ameliorating difficult global challenges, centering on the abolition of nuclear weapons. This essay is adapted from the seminar purpose statement and learning objectives so that readers can also engage with seminar themes and begin to shape their own creative responses to pressing problems confronting our world. 

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World society faces multiple, complex, and interrelated crises of such proportions as to limit the possibilities for achieving the conditions of sustainable human security, threatening the survival of the human species and the planet we share. We face these threats in the midst of a political culture steeped in violence and nearly devoid of ethics and authenticity. Human values have little valence in public policy making and policy makers devalue truth as they pursue power and self-interest through popularizing their “brands.” Few citizens are adequately equipped to challenge and transcend our critical condition, nor to engage effectively in formulating and proposing strategies to move us toward the United Nations’ goal of  “a culture of peace.”

Yet the hope for peace continues to be pursued by the untold numbers of ordinary citizens who comprise global civil society. Inspired by possibilities that are ignored by our “branded” politics, these ordinary citizens pursue serious efforts to overcome the systemic violence at the core of our planetary crises — a global system of violence. This system is spawned by the institution of war and its multiple forms of weaponry; paramount among them are nuclear weapons, long recognized to be a threat to human survival. In these crucial endeavors toward a disarmed world, civil society is inspired by the vision and practical imagination of a number of plans and proposals that reflect modes of creative thinking, alternatives to the thinking of the power brokers and “branders.”

In my view, the approach to considering urgent global challenges exemplified in Daisaku Ikeda’s annual peace proposals is one we would do well to emulate. The Ikeda peace proposals (written every year since 1983 and posted on-line from 2000-2017) illustrate two essential elements for effective civil action toward peace: a way of thinking that produces positive possibilities coupled with concrete recommendations for civic action. This way of thinking is one of the emerging alternatives to the present limiting forms of “realism” that stand in the way of seeking out and assessing constructive, creative solutions to myriad global problems — solutions that could lead us toward a just and sustainable peace.

Mr. Ikeda addresses global problems in his annual proposals with a breadth of vision and apprehension of possibility sorely missing from the dominant modes of thinking with which most publics and governments produce, at best, only short-term solutions. In so doing they restrain the public will to act and crush the hope required as motivation for undertaking difficult social action. The nurturing of hope is most critical for young people, who, in its absence might feel there is no point in striving toward their own preferred futures. Inspiring hope, then, is another core purpose of the Ikeda messages.

For these reasons, I will be collaborating with Zeena Zakharia of UMass Boston and the Ikeda Center in the coming months to conduct a two-part seminar series intended to introduce Boston-area university students to the concept and practice of alternative modes of thinking. They will engage with the reasoning and recommendations found in the peace proposals, especially as they relate to the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is important to note here that Mr. Ikeda’s hope for peace arises from a core set of life-affirming values that resonate with the peace-seeking “attitudes, values…behaviors” growing among the youth of the world (advocated in “United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace”).

“It is the young — so little consulted, yet potentially most creative — to whom we look for the fresh, creative, and constructive thinking essential to moving us toward a culture of peace.”

During the seminars we will pay close attention to five elements of Mr. Ikeda’s modes of thinking that influence most positions and proposals on security matters and other public issues: values, moral and ethical principles and standards; concerns, problems that violate the values; proposals, ideas for overcoming or resolving the problems; actions, steps to implement the proposals; and consequences, potential outcomes of the actions.

Beneath everything we do will be the firm conviction that while we are convening during a time of the most serious threat of nuclear war we have faced since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, it also is a time of unprecedented opportunity to make the most significant strides toward nuclear abolition since their development and use in World War II. Indeed, the adoption of the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons on July 7, 2017 is a breakthrough opportunity to advance the cause of nuclear abolition.

It is the young — so little consulted, yet potentially most creative — to whom we look for the fresh, creative, and constructive thinking essential to moving us toward a culture of peace. We seek to learn with and from them toward common endeavors in that movement. Therefore, the Ikeda Center Youth Peace Seminars comprise an inquiry into hope-inducing possibilities and a communal exploration of practical strategies for engaging others in similar and expanding inquiries — inquiries exploring the potential for civil society action that is a major intent of the peace proposals.

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Dr. Betty A. Reardon is a feminist peace educator and civil society activist with decades of practical experience in the international development of comprehensive peace education. Her teaching experience spans the levels of formal education from middle to graduate school. She has taught at various universities in the US and other countries.  She founded the original Peace Education Program at Teachers College Columbia University in 1982, the International Institute on Peace Education (also in 1982) to facilitate worldwide cooperation among peace educators, and the Global Campaign for Peace Education for the further development and dissemination of the field of peace education. Her civil society activism has been devoted to disarmament, political empowerment of women, and gender and racial equality and justice. She was among the initiators of the NGO campaign that resulted in UNSCR 1325.

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