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Overcoming Our Subconscious Biases


by David Barol
Central Territory Bureau Chief

CHICAGO, Oct. 1—Can our prejudicial thinking be overcome?

A definite “yes,” asserted Ceasar McDowell, who explored this outlook during the 2019 Ikeda Lecture, “Dialogue in Demographic Complexity: Overcoming Our Discriminatory Consciousness.”

Professor McDowell, who teaches the Practice of Community Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, started his talk by expressing his appreciation and admiration for the event’s sponsor: DePaul University’s Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education. More than 300 students, faculty and local residents packed the university’s student center auditorium for the annual lecture.

The theme was derived from SGI President Ikeda’s 1993 Harvard University lecture in which he addressed the underlying cause of conflict and hatred. “The ‘invisible arrow’[1] of evil is not to be found in the existence of races and classes external to ourselves but is embedded in our hearts,” President Ikeda says. “The conquest of our own prejudicial thinking, our attachment to difference, is the necessary precondition for open dialogue” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 340).

In a time of ever-increasing exposure to diverse landscapes, the MIT professor emphasized that our differences cannot become a barrier to our collective progress. He cited the example of mothers on both sides of the Northern Ireland conflict, a longstanding clash between Catholics and Protestants. Their desire to end the violence that was claiming the lives of their children far outweighed their sectarian differences. As a result, their concerted, unified efforts for peace had a powerful impact in reducing the level of violence in their communities.

“Action from empathy not grounded in compassion will not create a peaceful world,” Professor McDowell said, adding that, at best, it will only shift the burden of pain.

Genuine compassion, he said, is “an unwavering cherishing of all living beings and a desire to release their suffering.”


  1. The “invisible arrow” is a reference to Shakyamuni’s quote: “I perceived a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people.” He was observing the underlying cause of conflict in India at the time: an unreasonable emphasis on individual differences (see My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 340). ↩︎

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