Skip to main content

Global Perspective

Before It Is Too Late

Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikeda

Illustration by Rickyhadi/Fiverr.

Ikeda Sensei has had dialogues with leading figures throughout the world to advance peace. More than 80 of his dialogues have been published as books. This series highlights these dialogues. The following are excerpts from Before It Is Too Late (pp. 87–89).

True Communication Is a Mutual Exchange of Ideas

Daisaku Ikeda: Advances in communications technology now make it possible not only to talk with someone on the other side of the globe but also, through television, to see [their] facial expressions. But communications and intercourse of the mind have not necessarily developed in parallel with the sophistication of physical communications. I believe the peoples of the ancient world probably communicated with each other more often and more deeply than do the peoples in the current period of nationalism.

The Silk Road of long ago was an artery along which passed, in addition to the fabric for which it was named, arts, religion and learning. In a physical and spiritual way it linked not only the cities of China and the Middle East but also, through its various ramifications, the nations of the Far East and Italy, France and Spain in the West. It was along this road that Buddhism passed from India into China. From China, by way of Korea, it then passed on to Japan. And the many Chinese and Korean immigrants who travelled there in connection with Buddhism greatly enriched the culture of Japan by introducing the civilization of the Asian continent.

People then were not hindered by the complicated immigration and naturalization processes that have been established by modern national states. An [immigrant] who got along well with the people of his new country could easily become a member of its society. In spite of advances in transportation and communication, people today are hindered in efforts to establish true person-to-person cross-cultural contacts and exchanges by the red tape of the modern nation-state system. I should like to see this red tape cut away as quickly as possible because I believe that understanding based on contact and knowledge of the ways of living and thinking of other peoples is one key to averting catastrophe and building a bright future.

Aurelio Peccei: I disagree with your view in one respect and agree in another. With modern media, telephones, television, video-tapes, cables, telex and airmail and with other kinds of electronic devices already in the pipeline, interpersonal communication is vastly greater now than ever before. We can easily be, and in fact are, every day if not every hour, in one way or another, in touch with many people near and far.

But much of our communication lacks communion, the personal touch, the warmth of the human presence and of mutual knowledge. And this is where I fully agree with you. Communication of this kind is electronic and artificial, involving little face-to-face, heart-to-heart contact. Passions are quenched; even the invective loses its sting. I can call anyone I like on the telephone, but I can hear only his or her mechanically reproduced voice. In television, the interchange, in one direction only, is prepared by a few people for the many, who merely look and listen. Conferences may be held on telescreens without the conferees ever so much as coming together, ever shaking hands or patting each other on the shoulder. In other fields, people are becoming so accustomed to talking to trusted machines and getting quick pertinent answers from them that they no longer find need or pleasure in talking to other individuals, who may fumble or disagree. You are right. And the consequence is that well-organized pressure groups can influence large numbers of people who walk side by side but remain alien. Because the crowd is generally amorphous, the city anonymous and the family—the very heart of society—crippled, all of them are an easy prey to those who seek power.

Ikeda: I had in mind the way in which nationalism hinders the kind of communication among human beings that modern means of transportation and information transmission make possible. But you have interestingly delved deeper into the matter to comment on the influences organized pressure groups can have through modern means of communication on the ordinary masses of humanity, especially, as you point out, on the amorphous crowds and debilitated families of today’s anonymous cities.

In the past, political authorities have been quick to see the advantages to be had from transmission of information. Napoleon recognized the importance of the newspaper. Both Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt made skillful use of the radio. Today, the means of communication and information transmission available are so much farther advanced than anything known before that their misuse by power seekers conjures up visions as frightening as anything in George Orwell’s 1984.

To prevent such misuse, we must always remember that true communication is not unilateral, as is the case in much modern information transmission, but a mutual exchange of thoughts and ideas. It is essential to realize and help others to see that face-to-face meetings, handshakes and pats on the back constitute true communication and to do all we can to break down barriers that obstruct.

Aurelio Peccei

(July 4, 1908–March 14, 1984)

Of Note

• Italian scholar and industrialist

• Co-founded the Club of Rome

• Member of the Italian resistance during World War II

• Imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs in 1944

• Active in organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and the International Ocean Institute

• His books include The Chasm Ahead and One Hundred Pages for the Future

From the May 2023 Living Buddhism

Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Highlights of the May 2023 Study Material