Nuclear Disarmament

Betty Reardon: The Power of Alternative Thinking

Betty Reardon speaking

From fall 2017 through spring 2018, 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 considered creative modes of pursuing the abolition of nuclear weapons. Dr. Reardon based this essay on the seminar purpose statement and learning objectives.

The Power of Alternative Thinking

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.”

The hope for peace continues to be pursued by the untold numbers of ordinary citizens.

Betty Reardon

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) 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”).

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, i.e., moral and ethical principles and standards; concerns, i.e., problems that violate the values; proposals, i.e., ideas for overcoming or resolving the problems; actions, i.e., steps to implement the proposals; and consequences, i.e., 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.