Education & Philosophy, Hope

Perspectives on Conviction Three: Faith in Potential for Good

Boulding Headshot

Elise Boulding urged us to see that already-existing peace cultures reveal our highest capacities

In 2013 we helped to celebrate our 20th anniversary by gathering perspectives from diverse scholar-friends on our seven core convictions, which are all drawn from Daisaku Ikeda’s messages of guidance to us. Taken together, the perspectives of our contributors reveal the richness of the principles that guide us.  Here are thoughts on Conviction Three: “It Is Critical to Maintain Faith in People’s Potential for Good.”


From Elise Boulding, Peace and Women’s Studies pioneer, and co-author, with Daisaku Ikeda, Into Full Flower: Making Peace Cultures Happen

In this* exploration of peace culture, we have considered the fact that peace, like war, is a social invention. We have noted the sometimes precarious balance between humans’ need for bonding and autonomy. If humans did nothing but bond with one another, societies would be dull, lacking in adventure. If they did nothing but claim individual space, societies would be full of action, but it would be aggressive and violent action. Finding the right balance in a complex world in which technology shields us from one another and even from ourselves is difficult. Global corporations weaken local economic and social capacity. The military-industrial system seems beyond the ability of states to control, and the biosphere is losing its capacity to regenerate itself and feed the growing population of humans. Weakened local community and family systems are racked by violence.

How can peace culture grow and flourish, bring us better futures, under such conditions? We have noted the persistence of social images of life at peace, the ineradicable longing for that peace, and the numbers of social movements working for a more just and peaceful world. With the growth of the global civil society in this century, there are linkage systems among peoples and movements that never before existed, making possible unheard-of interfaces between governmental and nongovernmental bodies. We have seen that there are many sites where peace learning can take place, from family and community to international peace-building centers, and noted peaceful micro-societies like the Twa, the Inuit, and the Anabaptist communities. We have seen that the zone-of-peace concept is spreading.

It seems that in spite of the visibility of violence and war, many are able to see past that violence to a different future world. People who cannot imagine peace will not know how to work for it. Those who can imagine it are using that same imagination to devise practices and strategies that will render war obsolete. The importance of the imagination cannot be overestimated.

Peace culture, however, is not just a figment of the imagination. It exists in daily life and habitual interaction as people get on with their lives and work, negotiating differences rather than engaging in interminable battles over just how to solve each problem as it comes up. Aggressive posturing slows down problem-solving. Violence is more visible and gets more attention in our history books and in our media than peace does. But peace culture will take us where we want to go.

Kenneth Boulding always used to say, “What exists is possible.” Since peace culture exists in all the social spaces described here, it is possible. If we want the world to be one planetary zone of peace, full of adventure and the excitement of dealing with diversity and difference, without violence, humans can make it so.

* The brief reflection posted here is excerpted from Dr. Boulding’s essay “Peace Culture: The Problem of Managing Human Difference,” which first appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of the journal CrossCurrents.

We humans need exemplars!

Bernice Lerner

From Bernice Lerner, senior scholar at Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility and author, All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen

We humans need exemplars! We must train ourselves to find evidence of the human potential for good in books, newspapers, and film. And, in the life stories of those both distant and near to us. 

It is worth collecting a store of biographies of individuals who have struggled and endured, whose actions demonstrate the human capacity for nobility, integrity, courage, and compassion.  We thus learn how others have found ways of coping, of overcoming hardship, of responding to difficult situations in thoughtful and constructive ways.  Biographies make apparent that benevolence is a disposition of choice, and that we each hold the power to positively impact our world. Intimate knowledge of others’ lives also enables us to follow Aristotle’s advice: When faced with difficult decisions, ask, “What would the wisest person I know do in this situation?”   

Plutarch, the first century biographer of notable Greeks and Romans, argued that the lives of noble men and women “arouse the spirit of emulation.” This spirit is not concerned with attaining daunting or unreachable goals, but rather with acting rightly in matters both large and small in the course of our daily lives. Plutarch reminded us that “the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men… sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of character and inclinations than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments.”

Biography brings to the fore not only positive attitudes and attributes, but also human foibles and flaws. We can learn to judge historical and contemporary figures fairly, from a safe vantage point, engaging, as the art historian Halina Nelken put it, in “gossip on a scientific level.” In so doing, we can monitor our own tendencies, reflect on our own choices, and consciously better our responses to what Nel Noddings terms the “great questions of life”: How should I live? What kind of life is worth living? How do I find meaning in life? 

We humans are the sum of our choices. We each have the capacity to learn from others, to shape our destiny, and to make our own lives worthy of emulation. Hannah Senesh, a paratrooper and poet who was tortured and killed during World War II, bequeathed the following words of inspiration: “There are stars whose light reaches the earth long after they have disintegrated and are no more. And there are men whose scintillating memory lights the world long after they have passed from it. These lights which shine in the darkest night are those which illuminate for us the path.”


From Megan Laverty, Professor of Philosophy and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

With its third core conviction, “that it is critical to maintain faith in people’s potential for good,” the Ikeda Center asks us to consider the epistemic and moral import of how we speak about people in everyday conversations. Maintaining faith in people’s potential for good is to recognize that we must remain open to the-yet-to-be-discovered-ways for us to be good. The British novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, writes that, within the progressing life of an individual, words are both “instruments and symptoms of learning” (The Sovereignty of Good, p. 32). They are symptoms of learning because they reflect an individual’s deepening conceptual understanding. They can be instruments of learning when they move an individual towards ‘seeing more” and to setting up a different world. Maintaining our faith in people’s potential for goodness involves using ordinary words as instruments of learning. Put differently, we describe others as sweet, considerate, playful, tactful, courageous, dignified and generous in an effort to discover what these words really mean.