Ikeda Center Convenes 2nd Session of the 2022 Global Citizens Seminar

By Mitch Bogen

On August 6, the Ikeda Center hosted the second gathering of its 2022 Global Citizens Seminar. Like the first, it featured the excitement of bringing seven doctoral students together with Professors Jason Goulah of DePaul University and Catia Confortini of Wellesley College to explore how key themes from Daisaku Ikeda’s 2022 peace proposal might impact their respective research endeavors. Since this was the second of two meetings, the discussion concluded with a brainstorm of ways the work of the group could be formalized and carried forward.

Because the gathering was occurring on the 77th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, seminar leaders Confortini and Goulah offered some opening reflections on the implications of this for global citizenship. Speaking first, Confortini focused on how the testimony of the survivors on the destruction and suffering they experienced reveals a denial on the part of the bomb developers and those who dropped them of the dignity and humanity of the victims. She expressed joy at the fact that “the majority of the world” are about to agree that these “immoral” weapons should be illegal.* Goulah added that Mr. Ikeda has long been devoted to the abolition of these weapons, with it being a “perennial theme” of his across 40 peace proposals. Speaking personally, he observed how important it was for him to visit the bombing sites, as they made concrete that which can easily become overly abstract. Ultimately, each of us, he said, must do as Mr. Ikeda’s mentor, Josei Toda, advised and “rip” from within our own lives that “orientation” which makes the use of such monstrous weapons even thinkable.

Whole Group Discussion: Getting Dignity Right

Introducing the structure for the morning’s discussion, Goulah said that based on the first gathering, the planning team for the event put together three main points to guide the discussion. 

  • For Ikeda, no challenge is insurmountable when young people unite in solidarity. How can this group of emerging scholars use this forum to confront the challenges shaping our collective work?
  • One of the key themes that came out of the last seminar session was that “developing a sense of global citizenship involves a commitment to honoring the full dignity and agency of those among us who suffer the most and have experienced the most difficulties.” How can our respective work and research honor the full dignity and agency of those among us who suffer the most? Do you see the common points in each other’s research? In your own dissertation how do you do this?
  • Looking at the passage you chose from Ikeda’s peace proposal during the last seminar session, how does it fit into this conversation?

As the discussion unfolded, it became clear that the main themes had to do with identifying what exactly we mean by dignity and agency, how to understand the relationship between self and other in pro-social work, and how to avoid various pitfalls along the way. Here are some highlights from each of the participants that speak to these and other points. 

Global Cit August 2022

Anna Lane (DePaul University) on avoiding the “savior complex”
In speaking about the call for “our respective work and research [to] honor the full dignity and agency of those among us who suffer most,” Anna said that when framing her research she can too easily fall into the “mindset” recognized as the “savior complex” that is focused on “saving other people,” which is far different than actually helping them. “So I wonder,” she said, instead of “doing research about people who are suffering the most,” how can we both “be advocates for people when they need advocacy” and supporters who value “their voices” and encourage them to “speak for themselves?”

Toko Itaya (DePaul University) on awakening to dignity
To open, Toko raised the question that is our starting point: What is dignity? General agreement, she said, exists around the fundamental points that it is both important and something that “everyone has.” Given this reality, the core question is: what action does this require of us? The most essential act, she said, is to help people get in touch with their dignity, indeed, the “most important” thing we can do for “those who suffer the most” is to enable them to “reawaken their dignity.” Picking up on Confortini’s invocation of the hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she observed that by telling their stories they have “reawakened to their mission,” which in turn is an affirmation of their dignity. 

Jonathan Jacob (Brandeis University) on dignity, work, and global citizenship
Jonathan’s approach to the questions of dignity and agency is informed by his research into the “social value” of work. He is especially heartened by the “revitalization of the labor union movement” today in which people are standing up for themselves and their rights as workers. Especially promising, particularly in the context of global citizenship, he said, is when we witness “solidarity across different [types of] workers” who “put aside their differences” and say “let’s fight for each other.” Making a related point, he said an underlying or unspoken acceptance in the US of social groups being “in competition with one another” combined with a lack of “transparency” about structural injustice, for example in the case of redlining, presents a severe challenge to the widespread realization of dignity. 

Fiona Edwards (University of San Francisco) on dignity as a self-perpetuating reality
Fiona took the long perspective when thinking about dignity and agency. Her ultimate goal, she said, was not simply “to enlist dignity in children who are here now. I want to enlist it in a way that propels them to want to give it someone else. And then the next one, and then the next one.” This, she said, “is the ultimate goal of this project.” Her vision is for “dignifying human elements to be part of the natural DNA” that transcends any one person. Extending this line of thought, Fiona suggested that the “ideology of human rights” was closely related to any conception of dignity that is truly empowering for people, especially as it promotes the ability of people to make decisions for themselves. This is why we must take care to encourage the young. What people “don’t realize,” she added, is that, for example, telling “a child you’ll amount to nothing is casting a spell.” And this “becomes part of an undignified life experience” for them – “and who are we to then take that dignity away from them?” 

Masami Tabata-Kelly (Brandeis University) on the meaning of dignity and the creation of authentic security
Offering thoughts on the meaning of dignity, Masami spoke of “a deep sense of joy, respect, and appreciation of being myself,” with these being the basis of a form of “coexistence” based on feelings that come from the “heart.” These related to a core concept in Ikeda’s peace proposal that jumped out for her, namely, “authentic security.” Referencing the opening discussion on nuclear weapons, she agreed that while abolishing nuclear is vital, it is the attitude behind them that makes authentic security impossible. That is, if our need to “protect ourselves” means we are willing to “jeopardize other people’s lives,” then we foreclose the possibility of relationships based on mutual dignity. 

Olivia Fitzpatrick (Harvard University) on shame as an obstacle to dignity
In her clinical work, Olivia sees many children who have had certain “behavioral or mental health experiences” that have caused them to internalize shame. “I feel like that experience in and of itself is very dehumanizing,” she said. And when the shame “takes over,” she added, “then you don’t see yourself as a person who has purpose or who can live in the world in a way that has value.” Thought of like this, the act of shaming others “is a huge part of taking away someone’s dignity.” A critical point to understand, she added, is that this also holds true when we shame ourselves or become excessively ashamed of who we are. Not only do we lose our own dignity, it becomes “harder to then interact with other people in a way that’s affirming their dignity,” hindering the ability of both individuals and society to move forward in “a healthy way.”

Divya Chandramouli (Harvard University) on authentically honoring the dignity of others
Divya pointed to the “paradox” involved with our recognition of dignity, observing that “dignity is inherent in every single person, but it takes so much internal work to actually recognize that in someone else.” What this suggests is that “our recognition of dignity is actually not inherent, always, right? It takes a lot of unlearning and learning and, effort.” This then raises the question, she said, of how best might we “orient ourselves” toward those who suffer. Echoing Anna’s concerns about the savior complex, she said that honoring the dignity of others never works when it comes from a performative place, such as a desire to be seen by others as saying or doing “the right things” or expressing the right kind of “solidarity or alliance.” Rather, said Divya, the true recognition of another’s dignity must come from a deep, internal “place of compassion.”

Conclusion

To wrap up the two-part seminar, Drs. Goulah and Confortini expressed their appreciation to the students. “I think the work that you are doing matters,” said Dr. Goulah, “and bringing it together has a real importance.” Dr. Confortini shared her honest feelings that though she was excited about the opportunity to participate, a part of her thought it might be just more work. Instead, she said, “these two days have been a source of energy and delight and interesting conversation and vulnerability and honesty and self-examination that’s really a breath of fresh air.” She concluded by saying that this group gave her the conviction that “when young people come together in solidarity, everything is possible.”

Note:

* Here, Dr. Confortini is referring to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in the United Nations in 2017. As of summer 2022, TPNW has 89 countries, or 45% of the world's total, as treaty signatories. It is anticipated that the 50% threshold will be surpassed soon. For more on this topic, see Daisaku Ikeda's "Statement to 2022 NPT Review Conference Calling for No First Use of Nuclear Weapons": https://www.daisakuikeda.org/sub/resources/works/lect/npt-statement-20220726.html

 

 

 

Print Friendly and PDF