A Broader Vision

by Sophie Theven, Switzerland




When my father started practicing Nichiren Buddhism in Paris, I was thirteen. Struggling with a serious visual impairment since birth, I immediately wanted to try it out and felt relief and hope. In the following years I developed a strong desire to help make a reality of the SGI's vision of contributing to people's happiness and improving society. This desire has since been a compass in my life, a starting point to which I can always return which has given me the strength not to give up, or be overwhelmed by my limitations.

After a confidence-building experience as a dancer, I decided to resume my studies: I needed to understand society better if I wanted to promote the arts. These studies in social and economic administration, however, opened me up to broader social concerns. After receiving a master's degree, I moved to New York to study political science and international relations. Soon I focused on issues of development, inequality, and the United Nations, with a special interest in Africa. For me, the United Nations represented the possibility of going beyond narrow nationalism and looking at the world as an interconnected whole.

While finishing my Masters of Philosophy in Political Science, I got a job as a researcher for a project on the intellectual history of the United Nations. The purpose of this project was to trace the origin and evolution of ideas of social and economic development within the United Nations.

This research has shown the amazing wealth and diversity of development ideas and policies promoted by the United Nations since the mid-1940s. The UN has played an educational role by circulating ideas and setting goals, norms and principles. Peace, independence, human rights and development have been asserted as ideals that ought to be pursued. Governments and secretariats have been fighting over visions of the world. Early on, the social aspects of development, and inequalities within and between countries were underlined as hindrances to genuine progress. They had to be integrated into the development process and complement the search for economic growth. related article An Inextricable Connection An Inextricable Connection by Amy Yomiko Vittor Amy Yomiko Vittor, USA, inspired by Buddhist philosophy, studied the link between human health and the environment and followed her dream of making a truly lasting contribution

New Ideas

The research also showed that many novel and far-reaching ideas have remained just that. Many analyses and proposals do not make it beyond certain divisions or secretariats often for political reasons, and when governments reach some progressive agreements on social or environmental policies they are not often implemented in practice. Furthermore, the United Nations' ideas, such as "sustainable development" or "poverty reduction" tend to be widely used, but as rhetorical legitimacy for the continuation of the same old policies.

One of the conclusions of the project is that within the UN creative and independent thinking should be nurtured and made more broadly available; an inquisitive and questioning voice is of critical importance in the global debate.

While working for this project, I developed a research topic for a doctoral dissertation on sustainable development and water issues in Dakar, Senegal, looking at the influence of sustainable development promoted by the United Nations on water policies and realities in Dakar, and trying to identify options for resource management that would ensure access to drinking water for the majority of the poor and the sustainability of water resources.

SGI President Ikeda has written that a fundamental change in direction in our civilization is needed, if we want to avoid a truly catastrophic outcome. My studies and encounters have made me realize how true this is. Modern "developed" civilization characterized by consumerism implies the overexploitation of natural resources and pollution beyond the earth's regenerative capabilities, as well as inequalities in these resources' benefits and the burden of pollution. My long-term goal is to contribute to a reexamination of economic activities and our ways of life from an environmental perspective, to encourage a change in consciousness and more responsible behavior. While this seems a daunting task, returning to my original determination gives me the sense of purpose needed to tackle my research afresh every day.

[ Courtesy October 2005 SGI Quarterly ]

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