Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind: Conversations on the Path of Nonviolence is a series of conversations between SGI President Daisaku Ikeda and peace worker Stuart Rees, two poetic individuals whose lives have been deeply steeped in the concerns of peace.
Stuart Rees is professor emeritus at the University of Sydney where he taught social work and social policy and founded the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. He is also founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation, the author of several books and a recipient of the Order of Australia for his service to international relations.
Though both authors have published several volumes of poetry between them, the poetry alluded to in the title of this dialogue seems ultimately to be not so much about rhyme, verse and stanza as about an imaginative capacity that flows from a sensitivity to life. “Thinking poetically,” writes Rees in his preface, “begins to realize human potential.” It is the imaginative capacity that attends the poetic mind that is capable of resolving the contradictions and tensions of conflict, of uncovering the possibility and potentiality of peace.
Rather than an investigation of peace scholarship, the book presents readers with the easy, explorative conversation of two richly experienced individuals. It is an exploration that mostly traces the contours of their respective life paths and in doing so ranges over diverse territory, often evoking their mutual interest in poetry (besides writing poetry Rees is known for integrating it into his courses on peace and human rights). Rees draws from his extensive experience in social work, community development and conflict resolution in several countries as well as from his notable teaching and academic career, and Ikeda, from his own wealth of engagements, particularly his history of dialogues with thinkers and activists from around the world. Both also discuss their formative influences. From this varied landscape, from the authors’ rootedness in community, naturally flow the frequently inspirational and thought-provoking insights and perspectives that are the book’s substance.
Readers will not find in this anything akin to a manual on peace studies, but it is the casual unfolding of the conversation that is a key appeal of this book. If the conversation meanders, there is a central theme around which it comes sharply into focus, and this is the refrain of “peace with justice.” The absence of war does not necessarily imply peace. Peace necessitates justice, and a just society might be defined as a society in which the dignity of each person’s life is upheld. This is a perspective that implicates each of us, in our ordinary daily lives, in the responsibility for creating peace.
“Social evils such as war cannot be deterred by theory and logic alone,” says Ikeda. And elsewhere, “Only the nameless multitudes can bring about the transformation of an era, creating a better society.” This echoes Reese’s notion of “the promise of biography”—the wealth of potential and creativity each person possesses, particularly to create positive change within their social circumstances.
In the end, this dialogue between Rees and Ikeda offers inspiration—a call—for each person to bring forth such promise.
The authors’ sensitive and compassionate insights on the current condition of humanity are rendered even more powerful by frequent citations of poetry. While there is much in this book to engage the intellect, the numerous quoted verses speak to a deeper realm of the reader’s psyche.
—Isabel Nunez, Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Studies, Purdue University Fort Wayne