The following is written on the certificate I received on the final day at the Aspen Institute seminar:
“The Aspen Institute was established in 1950 as an international nonprofit organization with the purpose of (1) fostering enlightened leadership (2) respecting eternal wisdom and value through the classics and (3) promoting an open-minded dialogue regarding contemporary issues. Through seminars, conferences, and others, the Institute promotes the pursuit of international common ground and nonpartisan inquiry.
Various other events and programs were being held at the Institute in addition to the weeklong seminar in which I participated. Programs were simultaneously underway for leaders in the legal world as well as leaders from Nigeria.
During my stay, a former ambassador to Belgium delivered a speech about Iraq. Jordan’s King Abdullah is scheduled to speak next week, and the week after that, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will make an appearance. This is quite a distinguished lineup.
As stated in the objectives, discussions are quite open. Amid the natural surroundings and at 2,400 meters above sea level, participants can be more open-minded and leave behind the hustle and bustle of worldly affairs.
During my time here, I diligently read the textbooks, actively participated in discussions, and continued to ask myself questions. According to the Aspen Institute’s director, the intent is for participants to engage in three dialogues in the course of this seminar.
The first dialogue is with the texts, the second dialogue is with participants, and the third is a dialogue with oneself.
That is exactly how I experienced it. As a result of repeatedly engaging in these three kinds of dialogues, I made a number of discoveries, which I would like to share:
1) I now have a good understanding of the foundations of Western civilization.
2) I discovered Socrates.
3) I strengthened my ability to read difficult texts and debate abstract matters in English.
Let’s take a look at these one by one.
First of all, I was able to acquire a good understanding of the foundations of Western civilization. Since I had studied abroad in Sydney as a high school student and later attended graduate school in the United States, I thought I possessed a good grasp of the cultural differences between East and West. To be honest, however, I did not quite know where these differences originated. This time, as a result of reading the classics of Western civilization and continually debating with other participants, I think I got it.
It appears that Western philosophy is mainly focused on rights and the social contract, human rights and equality, as well as political systems, including the centralization and decentralization of authority. (At least, these accounted for most of the discussions I participated in.)
In simpler terms, without fear of being misunderstood, an absolute Western monarchy tended toward a Machiavellian rule through fear rather than benevolence. In the midst of these circumstances, the concept arose of people being born with natural rights. The concept of a social contract, which entrusts natural rights to the ruler, also appeared. Then, democracy and basic human rights were established, subsequently evolving into equality under the law.
Meanwhile, philosophers took the initiative to break away from the spell of religion and social customs. Rationality was valued and ideology and philosophy became widely accepted. As a result, religious reforms and the Renaissance took place, leading to the French Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.
Thinkers like Desiderius Erasmus, René Descartes, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke influenced the development of human rights, equality, and democracy. This is how I understood Western civilization in the course of the various dialogues.
At this point, many people would probably say, “So, that’s it?” On my part, however, I felt that only the intensive dialogue with participants finally enabled me to completely absorb the ideology and philosophy that constitute the foundation of Western civilization.
Since I’d never before experienced such a philosophical dialogue with Western friends, it is no wonder I was so ignorant. I had studied Western philosophy from books but had never deeply discussed this topic. In this sense, I was able to grasp Western ideology and philosophy for the first time and gain an awareness and understanding through dialogue.
On the other hand, I feel that a mindset and code of conduct, such as morals and practical ethics (Neo-Confucianism), are at the core of Eastern and Japanese ideology and philosophy.
I found it interesting that in the conversations about Confucius, most participants felt a leader was good as long he or she obtained results, regardless of ethical shortcomings. It appears that in the West, strategic and authoritative leadership is preferred, with or without a sense of virtue.
Second, it meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to experience the ideology of Socrates. Previously, I only knew about his philosophical tenets from Plato’s The Apology of Socrates. It was significant that I could get a sense his deep humanity in the course of this seminar.
In The Republic, he stated the following:
(Note: these statements reflect my own interpretation)
Socrates described the current world through the Allegory of the Cave. In the lower realm, people pursue material wealth and illusions, such as fame, and authority.
On the other hand, highly intelligent and noble-minded people live in the upper realm, which is filled with light. Intelligence and virtue make up the value system in this upper realm. People who reach the upper realm live in comfort, both intellectually and spiritually, under a bright sun.
Socrates encouraged people in the upper realm to descend into the lower realm to contribute to the happiness for all of society, without forgetting their intellectual and spiritual eminence. As related by Plato, Socrates held up the ideal of the philosopher-king.
This was such a brilliant stream of thought that I almost burst out, “bravo!”
At Aspen, I was intellectually stimulated in a number of ways, such as the arguments and highly persuasive power of Reverend Martin Luther King’s letter, Marx’s distinctive social analysis, the originality of Hobbes’ thought, and Locke’s ability to unite various viewpoints. Of these discoveries, the ideology of Socrates, despite its simplicity, exhibited many aspects that did more than just impress me. It gave me goose bumps. In another text, Socrates listed eccentricity, eroticism, and daydreaming as “Divine Madness.” I was absolutely enthralled.
Third, I read difficult texts in English and gained the ability to debate abstract matters. At first, I had a difficult time reading the texts and couldn’t work out the meaning.
I had resolved beforehand to continue re-reading the material until I understood it and to not give up. Since I took the trouble to come here to study, I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. I re-read the texts many times with a dictionary in one hand, and when I lacked the historical background on certain subjects, I thoroughly researched them on the Web. I tried hard to develop a structure for the arguments in the texts and simplify them for my own understanding. As a result, I came to comprehend the outline quite well.
In class, I listened to the flow of the discussion to grasp the essentials. As I formed my own opinions, I focused on only speaking about fundamental issues. As a result, I felt I made significant progress.
One of the reasons I decided to participate in this Aspen Seminar was that I wanted to gain the ability to engage more in discussions in English at international meetings, such as the Davos meeting. I have spoken at such events on topics such as entrepreneurship and venture capital. These days, however, I am getting more opportunities to appear at conferences as a panelist on a wide variety of subjects, from organizational theory, leadership, and educational theory to environmental issues.
A deep understanding of what it means to be human is at the root of these events. For this reason, I felt I had to master the ideology and philosophy and historical currents as well as the concepts and language.
As another result of this weeklong program, I felt that, to some extent, I was able to strengthen my English, enough to exchange opinions while grasping the essence of the discussion, regardless of subject matter.
I may be deceiving myself a little, but for me, even gaining a little confidence was a big plus. This was a very intensive study and discussion course, so I guess I really deserve some credit and a reward.
After the last class, we said our goodbyes and hugged each other. What would participants take home with them? One person said, “I must not forget the valuable things I learned after boarding the plane to return home.”
According to Socrates, when people land on their feet in the dark cave from the upper realm, the more intellectually and spiritually advanced realm, they must maintain their intellectual and mental capacities or they will assimilate with those in the cave in the lower realm.
One who has lived, studied and improved spiritually and intellectually in the upper realm named Aspen, 2,400 meters above sea level, is about to descend into the lower realm.
During his lifetime, Reverend King was imprisoned and the simple message contained in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was, “Do the right thing and stand up for it.” Those who maintain this strong sense of justice are able to contribute to cultivating happiness for all of society. It is not easy to maintain vigorous intellectual and spiritual capacities without also having mental strength.
These are the qualities possessed by the ideal leaders of change and creativity that the Graduate School of Management, Globis University wants to foster. I’ve started to strongly consider adding a course titled, “Humanistic Studies: Studying the Classics” (tentative name) to the curriculum.
Together with the Doctrines of Wang Yang-ming and leadership studied at the Keieidojyo, I believe this new course would contribute to further developing human capabilities.
With this in mind, I began my journey home.
After one week of study in the upper realm, I was about to descend into the lower realm.
July 20, 2008
En route to Narita