New Year's Address

A very happy New Year to you all.
Let us make it a meaningful year for all of us.

I am happy to listen to your stories of how you spent a peaceful New Year with your families. I sincerely feel it is so precious to be able to share this special time with you in
this way.
In Japan we were blessed with lovely weather and calm New Year holidays.
However, it was for all of us around the world without exception the beginning of a challenging year.
During the past months we have been engulfed in a global financial crisis such as is said to occur only once a century. On December 27, we learned of the air assault on Gaza which has now developed into ground warfare.
The dawn of the new year in this accelerating pace of worsening means how terribly severe situation we are in.
The media continue to warn us of the gloom that awaits us as we go forward. It seems to me the situation we are facing today is far beyond our predictions based on our experience and conventional wisdom.
Companies that enjoyed excellent performance this time last year are laying off not only members of their temporary staff but also their permanent employees. It is happening all over the world.
In the first year of the twenty-first century, which all of us hoped would herald a more peaceful world, we were crudely introduced to a new framework of war beyond borders following the 9/11 terror attacks.
The rapid diffusion of worldwide Internet use has exposed our families, not just nations, to a borderless world. Ever-evolving computer technology has created virtual reality divorced from the real world, making inroads into every possible field of our lives.
The 9/11 attacks on the American homeland were followed by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and the war on Iraq. As we know, the war was premised on Iraqi possession of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), but none were found. There is of course no justification for any war, but the absence of WMDs in Iraq calls into question even the official rationale for the war.
The process of democratization led by the U.S., the sole superpower in the post-Cold War era, and the globalization of market economies led again by the U.S. has thrust the world into a speculative money-game economy separated from the real economy. The result is that we have today an uncontrollable global financial crisis triggered by the bankruptcy of the subprime loan scheme.
On the 27th of last November, two days before the anniversary of the demise of our founding director general Mrs. Yoshiko Nomura, Mrs. Amal Emara and her husband Mr. Ali Takkash of Palestinian branch came to Japan. They had asked the Center for this opportunity by saying "We need your guidance now and we need to meet all of you." So we decided to invite them to spend some time with us.
It was the first opportunity for me to spend many days together to talk and discuss with members of overseas branches since I assumed my new responsibilities as director general.
I felt very deeply the importance of face-to-face communication, as it has given me the confidence that we can really share our innermost feelings and thoughts in spite of the differences of our cultures. It is heart-wrenching to think of all that has happened just after a month they left Japan because we have such a bleak situation.
I recall what Mrs. Nomura had told us at the end of the 8th International Forum on Lifelong Integrated Education: "Meeting each other, one meets another, is truly a precious experience." I echo her thought.
How valuable it is to get to know others in person of the concerned country and culture in addition to knowing them through images and information! Not just information but knowing them in person makes me feel so painful in the deepest of my heart.
We, living in today's scientific civilization, can easily obtain information. However, inversely, the bond between humans is getting weaker and weaker. Though we come to be able to analyze and interpret what is happening around us more efficiently and speedily, I am concerned that it has diminished the sense of ties between people only born out of face-to-face relationship. Consequently, we are losing feelings of empathy, sharing and caring. This trend encourages people to be analytical and judgemental, unconsciously being apathetic to the feelings of others. We live in such a society. The Internet enables only point-to-point communication in which we get to know people only part of another person in a one-dimensional relationship.
I stared in amazement, a sort of shocking feeling, when I was shown the play the children of Gaza had produced, "A Bird from Hiroshima". The message from the Palestinian children was clear - they do not want an endless retaliation but for Israel and Palestine to live together side by side, although they made it under such circumstances. The children were learning to understand the dignity of life.
I saw the fruit of the work by Mrs. Emara, who through her meeting with Mrs. Nomura was awakened to the dignity of her own life and accepted that of her own people. The truth Mrs. Emara found had been communicated to the children as she continued to care for them even under extraordinary circumstances with her mobile educational unit. I was inspired to see the proof of her work. That's all the more reason to regret for the present painful predicament of the region.
All the more so because of that, we must be calm and reject all assumptions and one-sided views. We must try hard to grasp actual conditions deeply enough to reach the truth.
We have learned from our founder that "All events that occur in the phenomenal world have a cause ruled by the law of cause and effect without exception. There can be no resolution of our problems without searching deeply into their origins." and "As long as each side in any matter of contention holds the other responsible for the original cause, they will not be able to arrest the chain of negative effects."
On rereading Mrs. Nomura's statement that was carried in the International Herald Tribune (issued on Oct.11, 2001) immediately following the September 11 terror attacks I believe I have found a vital lesson. Let me share with you some of those lines.

"From prehistoric times to the present humankind has repeatedly plundered and killed and been plundered and killed in turn. We may say that our history is a progression of consequences born of our greed, anger, hatred and jealousy that are offshoots of our biological nature of aggression and egoism.
It is in recognition of this that the preamble to the UNESCO Constitution states that "wars begin in the minds of men."
The accumulated acts of plunder and murder are passed on genetically so that each of us inherits and retains it in our subconscious. This is to say that under certain conditions any one of us is capable of exhibiting the hidden urge to kill and plunder. It is time for us to put an end to this cycle of violence.
As long as each side in any matter of contention holds the other responsible for the original cause, they will not be able to arrest the chain of effects.
It is up to each of us to overcome the curse of our history of war and murder by seeking out and eradicating its cause within us."
From the statement "Copernican revolution in thinking needed to end the vicious cycle of terrorism and war" (Nomura Center News No.22)

We in Japan live in a peaceful country in terms of no war and so-called advanced industrial society. This does not mean that we are not immune to greed, anger, resentment and jealousy that stem from our self-centeredness. Economic crisis and social uncertainty are warning us against our self-centered and corrosive feelings of frustration, bitterness and envy that are amplified by our internet-based culture.
The history of modern times, it can be said, has been one of the hasty pursuit of external developments while neglecting our inner lives, without understanding that those negative feelings are part of human nature and have to be dealt with. In other words, in the course of the rapid development of scientific and technological civilization we have left behind what is most important for us as human beings.
This reality reminds us of the essence of what Mrs. Nomura gave her life for since the sixties: focusing on human beings and the need for us to change our motives, and sending an urgent message to our own society and the world. During the holiday break I reread Mrs. Nomura's books and felt her words advocated fifty years ago ring with new freshness given today's critical times. I am emboldened by the breadth and power of her insight and foresight.
The principles of education Mrs. Nomura espoused are clear and simple: We humans are sustained to live under the laws of nature, and our very existence is conditioned by them. We learn from this that our inharmoniousness and dissonance result from our disregard of those solemn laws.
We renew our commitment to live by these principles and practice them as we encounter issues at home and in our workplaces. In this concrete context, we can not but face each other seriously - for example, pointing out to a colleague how he or she has lost sight of the "original state of human existence in the structure of nature" can invite a negative reaction, if not resistance.
But as we look into those negative feelings springing up within and face ourselves squarely, we will come to know unknown self. And the joy of identifying what I am encourages us to renew our commitment to live by the principles.
It is in facing the truth about our own egoism and overcoming our selfish interests that we are able to create good and harmonious relationships that are the basis of the peace we have been able to enjoy this New Year, as evidenced by your own words today.
Before learning about the need to change ourselves, most of us certainly felt that the road to happiness was to acquire more money and possessions. We even thought that purchasing more goods would add value to us. But we learned to turn our eyes to our inner selves and away from external things, to renew the purpose of our lives, become better people and experience our own human rebirth. We have learned to find happiness and satisfaction in achieving a new measure of personal growth every time we encounter challenges. And we have learned that real happiness lies in helping others find theirs.
There can be no real happiness when people all over the world are suffering. We must all be aware of our self-centered egoism and deepen our learning to find fulfillment in helping others to find happiness. The times we live in are calling us to share our good fortune with all those we can reach.
Whether we live in a land without war or a land in war, we must all honestly face our ego, our greed and our contentiousness and learn to overcome them. It is in facing and changing our own nature that we can best contribute to making our communities and the world a better place.
I wish to share with all of you my renewed commitment as we start the New Year.
Let us go forward together.
Thank you.
(At the first meeting of the New Year, January 8, 2009)
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