Dialogue Nights #4: The Invisible Arrow of Prejudice

| Mitch Bogen
Participants engage in dialogue at Dialogue Nights on the invisible arrow

Breakout discussion at Dialogue Nights

We hosted our first Dialogue Nights event of 2018 on January 19, when more than forty Boston-area students and young professionals gathered at the Ikeda Center to discuss “The Invisible Arrow of Prejudice, War, and Conflict.”

After welcoming remarks from Dialogue Nights creator Lillian I, Ikeda Center Executive Advisor Jason Goulah introduced the evening’s theme. He first explained that the phrase “an invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people” originated with the historical Buddha, who, said Goulah, “was a peerless master of effective dialogue.” Goulah then shared how, in his 1993 Harvard University lecture, Center founder Daisaku Ikeda observed that “this ‘arrow’ could be termed the arrow of a discriminatory consciousness, an unreasoning emphasis on difference.”

Critically, Mr. Ikeda also said that “the ‘invisible arrow’ of evil to be overcome is not to be found in races and classes external to ourselves, but embedded in our own hearts.” In the lecture, Ikeda continued, saying, “The conquest of our own prejudicial thinking, our own attachment to difference, is the guiding principle for open dialogue, the essential condition for the establishment of peace and universal respect for human rights.” Dr. Goulah then invited everyone to dislodge as many invisible arrows as possible by joyfully engaging in open-hearted, open-minded dialogue!

Breaking into small groups, participants were asked to consider a two-part question centering first on whether participants could perceive an “invisible arrow” in their own lives, and if so how it got there; and second, on how attachments to differences can be overcome and the shared humanity of all people, even those with divergent beliefs and values, can be acknowledged and honored.

Many intriguing ideas emerged from these discussions. One participant commented that often our prejudices and judgments come from our upbringing, how we were raised, and how we were programmed to think. As a result, we are not even aware that these feelings or thoughts are not based on objective reason or reality. Another participant remarked that judgment of others can be a protective mechanism, rooted in our own insecurity and fear of being judged. In reflecting on how to remove this arrow of prejudice and judgment, one group discussed the importance of finding value in our differences and appreciating those as strengths rather than points of contention. Another participant pointed out that since the arrow is in our own hearts, we are the ones being hurt as well, and our own humanity is being pierced when we hold prejudices towards others.

Youth present at Dialogue Nights on the invisible arrow
Sonali Yadav and David Reker present at Dialogue Nights

It is a Dialogue Nights tradition for selected participants to share personal reflections with the whole group. For this event, the two speakers talked about the importance of “inwardly-directed change” in peacebuilding. Speaking first was David Reker, a UMass Boston graduate student researching the intersections of politics and indigenous cultures. Just open any newspaper or news site, he said, and it is very easy to find incidences of “prejudice and discrimination” and “great abuses of power.” Despite the daunting scale of the problems we face, said Mr. Reker, our path is clear and immediate: “We have to recognize our own humanity, both on an individual and a shared level.” This is precisely what is not done, he said, when nation-states threaten the use of nuclear weapons, which amounts to nothing more than the “indiscriminate decision to deny the humanity” of extremely large numbers of people, including whole groups seen as the other. Here, he said, we see the worst example of how “the invisible arrow” can inflict pain on others. This is why the humanizing power of dialogue is so important, he concluded.

Speaking next was Sonali Yadav, an India-born woman working in the field of information science. Her remarks focused on the 1947 Partition of India, which, by forcing the migration of millions of individuals either to the newly created Muslim state of Pakistan or the newly Hindu state of India, has tragically encouraged people to think of India and Pakistan as “natural enemies,” thus planting an invisible arrow deep in their hearts. When she recently asked her family members if dialogue could help overcome this divide, most simply responded, “No.” However, this rejection has only caused Ms. Yadav to redouble her commitment to peace and reconciliation. “As long as we believe in humanity,” she said, “you are my friend. It doesn’t really matter what part of the world you belong to. I am sure that consistent courage and single-minded effort to create space for heartfelt communication is a microscopic seed planted for peace.”

To close, Lillian I said that she hoped the event “inspired you to dialogue with someone you wouldn’t usually approach or engage with. And I hope that we can each leave here feeling a little more hopeful about the power we have to transform our society, starting with our own inwardly directed change.” She then left everyone with Mr. Ikeda’s optimistic vision:

“If more people were to pursue dialogue, the inevitable conflicts of human life would surely find easier resolution. Prejudice would yield to empathy and war would give way to peace. Genuine dialogue results in the transformation of opposing viewpoints, changing them from wedges that drive people apart into bridges that link them together.

Thanks to Lillian I for her research contributions to this article.