Knowing Self Through Others: Empathy – A Path towards a Just and Fraternal Society

800 532 World Social Initiative Forum

Text: Andrea dela Cruz [ES] | Photos: The Social Initiative Forum [CH]

At Easter, more than 300 people gathered at the 2018 Social Initiative Forum in Japan to attend a 5 day long event exploring Empathy as a tool for inclusion, social change and transformation in an increasingly multicultural world. The event was co-organised by an international and intergenerational team led by Daisuke Onuki, professor of International Studies at Tokai University (JP); Joan Sleigh member of the Goetheanum’s Executive Board (CH); Michitaka Seki, eurythmist and consultant at the Anthroposophical community of HIBIKInoMura (JP), and Ute Craemer, founder of Monte Azul Community Association (BR) and the Social Initiative Forum. The co-working group included Japanese volunteers from Children Resources International (CRI), Beijo Me Liga and students of Tokai University and the team at the Goetheanum.

The impulse for this gathering was born out of Daisuke Onuki’s interest in uniting Anthroposophical groups in Japan to undertake common approaches to work on the issue of cultural diversity in the Asian country, where often one can experience an insular attitude towards foreign communities, such as those surrounding Korean and Brazilian schools. This is a key question when it comes to education in particular, since currently the development of free schools like Waldorf schools, which bring together students from the international communities, is not really supported in Japan as a legitimate mode of education.

Thanks to the participation of individuals from a great variety of nationalities, ages and professions, the event became a true celebration of diversity. Attendees included high school pupils from Waldorf, international and traditional schools; social workers from Thailand, South Africa, USA, Germany and Brazil; artists, teachers, professors and economists were also present.

During workshops, lectures and group activities, participants could explore self-knowledge and self-development as a first step for becoming agents of change in the places where transformation is most needed in our societies today. At a Pre-Forum event in Minobusan University, spiritual solutions to present social challenges were discussed. Presentations by Joan Sleigh and Ute Cramer brought attention to the necessity of taking on responsibility in the uncertainty and chaotic nature of our present times, with Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual scientific approach as a guiding impulse in this task:

We may not be able to say that we have left the Darwinian jungle behind, but can we say that we are waking up to the need of empathy? Can we take up this chaos world and live amidst it? This chaos is a place of potential, creativity, where something new can come about. Can we recognise the complexity of the human being as Rudolf Steiner described? Joan Sleigh, Minobusan University opening words

Joan Sleigh invited the public to consider human beings as free agents of the solutions that can solve the devastation that has been caused in places around the world, and empathy – understood as the state and ability of heartfelt openness towards others -, as one of humankind’s driving forces that can guide this process of healing. Ute Cramer, who held a conversation with Chief Priest Iwama of the Nichiren Buddhist sect, described the importance of the development of the “I” in connection with others:

I was happy to see that Nichiren also contemplated that transformation has to do with the evil that comes to meet us. I think this is also similar to Anthroposophy, because to be yourself you have to overcome obstacles – another person, a language, a situation… Anthroposophy would say that what is evil outside can also be found inside your soul, and when you have a life experience to do with evil outside it’s not so easy to see that the evil is also in yourself … It’s really a temptation to ignore that the Buddha can live in the other. In Anthroposophy we could say that it’s not too easy to see in the other person their higher self. The question is – what is this higher self? – Ute Craemer in a conversation between Anthroposophy and Buddhism with Chief Priest Iwama

Guest lecturer and The Right Livelihood Award recipient Nicanor Perlas spoke in two different addresses about Anthroposophy, artificial intelligence and the future of humanity, focusing on the impact that AI will have in the areas of education and the job market. His emphasis on the need for scientists and technologists to develop a new spiritual conception of reality, as opposed to the current materialism permeating scientific and technological developments, raised awareness about the importance of developing Spiritual Science in particular for the younger generations, who will have to deal with these emerging challenges in the next couple of decades.

Artistic practice was a key aspect of the Forum, allowing participants to put into practice ideas and theories around empathy, transformation and identity, with social eurythmy exercises opening most lectures. Akio Hizume, a Geometrical Artist inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s Ways to a New Style in Architecture delivered bamboo art exploring pentagons, the Fibonacci Sequence, the Golden Ratio and architectural designs of a proposed third Goetheanum. Other activities included Social Painting (Yumiko Abe), Phenomena Based Science (Henry Saphir), Capoeira (Nelson Avella) and Mapamundi, an exploration of national identity led by the Goetheanum’s Youth Section team.

A complete report of the Social Initiative Forum in Japan will be published here in the upcoming months. The next Forum event will take place in the Goetheanum from October 19-21st 2018 and will be organised in collaboration with Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiner’s young volunteers. The event is currently being designed and it promises to bring a true celebration of social impulse across the world to Dornach.

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