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On September 27, the SGI-affiliated Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, held its eleventh annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue. The forum, titled “Dignity of Life: The Heart of Human Rights and Peace Building,” explored the role of dignity in fostering peace, transforming conflict and how to cultivate a broader recognition of the inherent value of all life.
The theme of the forum was inspired by the following quote from Daisaku Ikeda’s 2013 Peace Proposal: “If we picture a global society of peace and creative coexistence as an edifice, the ideals of human rights and human security are key pillars that hold it up, while the foundation on which these rest is respect for the dignity of life. If this foundation remains no more than an abstract conceptualization, the entire structure will be unstable and could collapse in the event of a severe challenge or crisis.” Dignity, he suggests, is realized in practice.
The forum featured presentations by three experts in the fields of international human rights and conflict resolution, each followed by a Q & A session. The speakers confirmed that in all our relationships, ranging from those with friends and family all the way up to those among nations, we have the power to either nurture or violate dignity. The choice is ours.
In his speech, Andrea Bartoli, dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, employed a variety of images, and a tone of deep feeling to invoke dignity’s character. He described dignity as “an invitation to our shared humanity,” a “call” for us to be human together. It is, he said, a “project” we carry out for others and on behalf of the future.
Charlie Clements, executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, was also a guest speaker. Dr. Clements served as a non-combat pilot in the Vietnam War until he refused to fly further missions, believing the war was immoral. He then worked as a physician during the civil war in El Salvador, publishing his account of that experience, Witness to War, in 1984. He described the indignities caused by war and poverty, stating that “we have the ability in our interaction with people, virtually any time, to restore dignity when it has been denied.”
The final guest speaker was Mari Fitzduff, professor and founding director of the Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Professor Fitzduff drew on her experience of working in conflict situations such as Northern Ireland and focused on ways our inherited neurological and evolutionary factors predispose us to favor our own groups and harm or deny the dignity of others. Due to these influences, she posited that facts and reasoning are often inadequate when trying to resolve inter-group conflict. Creating contexts where we can connect as human beings, will, she said, expand our sense of belonging.
The forum also included a ten-minute excerpt from the documentary film “A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education” that was jointly created by SGI, the Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The forum concluded with a panel discussion with all speakers. Themes included the greater “We,” the restoration of dignity and the role of forgiveness in healing infringements of dignity.
[Adapted from a report from the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue; photos courtesy of the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue]
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