This year marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which was founded as a response to the two global conflicts of the 20th century. Significant improvements have been made through its efforts in various areas such as eradication of poverty and hunger and the promotion of human rights and education.
Yet, today, a grave crisis is facing the world again. In addition to climate change, the unprecedented pandemic of the novel coronavirus is threatening people’s lives, livelihoods and dignity with tragic consequences.
It is essential more than ever, for governments to work together beyond borders, in order to respond to these challenges. We need to strengthen collaboration in prevention and build a cooperative framework to tackle the devastating economic impact. I believe it is vital that we attend to the actual suffering of the many individuals that the scale of economic loss or other quantifiable indicators might obscure, making the commitment never to abandon those who find themselves in dire circumstances central to our efforts to come together in search of solutions.
In this regard, the insights that Soka Gakkai founding president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi set out in his 1903 work, A Geography of Human Life, merit attention. During Makiguchi’s time, the world was ravaged by forces of imperialism and colonialism. It was largely considered natural to pursue prosperity at the expense of other societies. He warned against “survival of the fittest” economic competition that could result and accelerate without cease, and called for a transition to humanitarian and humane modes of competition based on “striving to protect and improve not only one’s own life but also the lives of others”.
In the world of the 21st century, where globalisation and economic integration have advanced far beyond his time, the need for such change is greater than ever.
The foundation of Makiguchi’s thinking was an awareness that this world is, more than anything, the site of “shared living”. The world is constituted of the overlapping and interwoven activities of countless people and their vectors of mutual influence.
From the moment of birth, every individual is connected to the entire world. When we disregard this reality, we lose sight of the existence of those who suffer under grave threats and societal contradictions. What Makiguchi found problematic was our tendency to base our behaviour on the assumption that our lives are independent of all others. He asserted that it is thus vital that we consciously engage in shared living.
Modes of military, political and economic competition by which people and societies seek their own security and prosperity at the expense of others are still part of our world. Nevertheless, we are certainly capable of creating new approaches by generating a global solidarity of action to face challenges.
Because climate change and coronavirus are issues that will leave no one untouched, they have the potential to catalyse hitherto unseen global solidarity and action. The key to this challenge is indeed the commitment to leave no one behind – the central promise of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.
By acting on this commitment wherever we may be, we can overcome this unprecedented crisis together and effect a paradigm shift that opens new horizons in human history.
The writer is honorary president, the Soka Gakkai Buddhist organisation and founder, Soka schools system. He lives in Japan