The Art of Listening

Sarah Wider, former president of the Emerson Society, shares reflections from her book, co-authored with SGI President Ikeda.

Memorable—Sarah Wider signs copies of the book she co-authored with SGI President Ikeda, The Art of True Relations, at the SGI-USA Denver Culture Center on April 20. Photos by Taka Kamata.

by Lauren Matsuda

DENVER, April 30—Sarah Wider, former president of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, visited the SGI-USA Denver Culture Center to share reflections on her encounters with SGI President Ikeda, as well as various themes from the book they co-authored, The Art of True Relations: Conversations on the Poetic Heart of Human Possibility.

Dr. Wider is a professor of English and women’s studies at Colgate University in New York, where she specializes in the American Renaissance, American women writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Native American literature.

She first met President and Mrs. Ikeda in summer 2006, recalling President Ikeda’s “buoyant spirit” and their “profoundly encouraging” exchange. The dialogue that ensued focused on nature, art, poetry, family, friendship and education.

Dr. Wider has since expanded her circle of friendship to include various exchanges with students of Soka education, both in America and Japan. Similarly, while in Denver, she engaged in heart-to-heart dialogue with a group of SGI-USA Rocky Mountain Zone youth about myriad challenges and insights from their daily lives.

Dr. Wider spoke with Rocky Mountain Zone youth and took a commemorative photo with members who joined her lecture.

In a lecture and Q&A with local SGI-USA members, Dr. Wider talked about the power of one’s words to positively or negatively effect change. To illustrate the generative nature of dialogue—which, she says, always includes more than just the two individuals having a conversation—she drew from a wide range of influential voices in her own life. She reflected on generations within her family, and the ideal of an equitable future that each parent hopes to create for their children.

Dr. Wider relayed the story of President Ikeda’s own mother who, cherishing the promise of peace after the war, is quoted as saying, “How bright it is!”

Dr. Wider then conveyed inspiration that she’s gathered from her own students when it comes to combating pervasive misconceptions—namely, that we are good enough, and that there is room for everyone at the table.

And she praised the qualities inherent in creativity and imagination to enable us to see things differently and serve as a call-to-action every day.

“We so often look without seeing and hear without listening,” Dr. Wider says in The Art of True Relations (p. 2). “Building relationships is a powerful, creative art. If as much time had been given to the art of relationships as has been given to other dimensions of our society, we might be in a different place today” (p. 35).

“Infinite Power Inside”

An excerpt from The Art of True Relations: Conversations on the Poetic Heart of Human Possibility, pp. 195–96.

Daisaku Ikeda: The human revolution movement of the SGI, too, promotes the activation and manifestation of the inherent goodness within each person, spreading waves of spiritual revolution throughout society to build a better world—always through the religious practice of each individual. It is a consciousness-raising movement to expand humanistic education through the people’s efforts.

Buddhism teaches the infinite power inherent equally in each individual human life from a variety of perspectives. Like a flame reaching up toward the heavens, life has the power to convert suffering into energy for value creation and to illuminate the darkness of this world; like a wind blowing in all directions without obstruction, life can carry away all hardship and adversity; like a cool, clear stream, it has the power to purify all the impurities of this world; and like the earth nurturing all plants and trees, it has the power to protect all people impartially and treat them with equal compassion.

The core of our human revolution movement is drawing out, in both ourselves and others, this fundamental power of life that resides deep within all people, making it shine its brightest.

Sarah Wider: Hearing your words about the human revolution movement, I cannot stop thinking of Emerson’s emphasis on the creative force available to all.

It is sad that religion today is often the greatest divisive force among human beings. As did Emerson in the 1840s, I call for renewed attention to the affinities across cultures, times and places.

Certainly Buddhism’s emphasis on our profound and deeply rooted interconnectedness gives me great hope, as does its emphasis on sustained listening. Buddhism thus encourages the boundless potential of the individual in light of our responsibility to others. I turn again to the word hope—the strong-hearted hope rooted in the full range of daily life.


(p. 11)