Unification News for

December 1997


Identity and Character Focus of the Seventh International Congress of Professors World Peace Academy

by Gordon L. Anderson-St Paul, MN

"Identity and Character: The Influence of Family and Society on Personality Development" was the topic of the Seventh International Congress of Professors World Peace Academy held in Washington, DC, November 24-27, 1997. One hundred sixty participants from 100 countries attended the conference which was held at the Washington Hilton and Towers.

The conference theme developed out of the 5th International Congress which looked at technological development and the future of society. It was clear from that conference that new technologies can be used for good or for bad, for peace or for war, depending upon the type of person that uses them. Because individuals are formed in the family, the 6th International Congress, looked at the "Future of the Family," the cornerstone of society. At that congress, President Morton Kaplan asked where we could find the men and women of character needed by our societies in our modern individualistic and hedonistic culture. He referred to the Reverend Moon as an example of a man who knows who he is and lives his life based on that self-identity. It was decided that the 7th Congress would be organized directly on the topic of Identity.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Kaplan told a story about a street vendor in Japan who sold him a teapot. Kaplan was in a hurry, but the man insisted on cleaning it and packaging it very carefully. He knew his job, and he knew the optimal way to serve his client. Such a man has a sense of identity, and a predictable character will flow from it. Kaplan used the example to explain how all people, whether they are a simple vendor or a national leader, can attain a sense of identity and character that will be beneficial to others and society as a whole.

The conference looked at the topic from several angles. Panel 1 explored the philosophical foundations of character. Classical western civilization is rooted in Greek philosophy, notably that of Aristotle. Dr. Jude Dougherty, Dean of the School of Philosophy at Catholic University of America, explained the common body of belief that made up Western identity and underpinned the legal systems of West. Dr. John Simpson explained the challenge to Western tradition from Descartes onwards to the deconstructionist philosophy of Derrida which relativizes all notions universal truth and morality. He emphasized the importance of stories as communicating concepts of self and cultural values that serve as a basis for relations between individuals and civilizations. Dr. Lloyd Eby continued on this theme with an attempt to disprove those who say that everything is relative and there is no basis for communication across languages and cultures. In the end, he said, communication may be difficult but it can take place and we can learn to understand one another.

The speakers on Panel 2 looked at the formation of selfhood from the standpoint of psychology and sociology. Tamara Ferguson spoke about the formation of conscience in young children and how they internalize the standards and rules of their family and society. Then Tom Kando looked at the influence of family on the formation of selfhood and some of the dysfunction and pathology in families in "advanced" societies. He argued that it is only through primary socialization groups like the family that individuals learn to be responsible participants and contributors to society. Edward Wynne next discussed the role of the educational institution in character development and some of the challenges to accomplishing this task in contemporary society. Jeff Adams presented an overview of the influence of religion on personality development from the perspective of psychology and Margaret Poloma spoke about the influence of Charismatic religion on personal identity and motivation. Stanley Rothman contributed a paper on the influence of the media on personality development.

Looking at the influence of the 1960s, William R. Garrett put forward the thesis that the 1960s generation was not the radical break with historical development in American history that traditionalists claim. Rather, the liberalization trends were part of a century-long adjustment to globalization that taking place, but had just been put on hold during World War II and the 1950s. He argued that although the drug culture, increased pre-marital sex, and counter-cultural dropouts were casualties of the 1960's generation, the period led to articulation of greater personal responsibility and self-definition. Dean Hoge, in his discussion of the impact of the "Baby Boomers" on society, disagreed with Garrett, emphasizing that "me-firstism is too strong, and that baby boomers are not enough prepared to make the necessary sacrifices of personal self-express for the sake of community values. Jose Casanova examined the formation of selfhood and identity in the post communist countries, which lost their imposed cultural identity with the collapse of communism. The panel concluded with a discussion by Peter Beyer of our growing sense of global identity and the paradoxical impact of the value pluralism that comes with globality which makes all positions seem somewhat arbitrary.

At the end of the first day participants enjoyed William Kilpatrick's talk "Experiments in moral Education."

Identity and Character in Historical Figures was the topic of Panel 3. Experts discussed the formation of the character and sense of identity in nine recent historical persons who have had great influence on their societies: Margaret Thatcher and , Winston Churchill in England, Hideki Tojo in Japan, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Charles DeGaulle in France, Alcide de Gasperi in Italy, Walter Judd in the American Congress, and Rabindranath Tagore in India. These people all provided great leadership to their societies when confronted with challenges or transitions. Their own sense of identity, justice, and right carried them forward, often in very adverse conditions, until they prevailed. What kind of upbringing and what type of experiences created such leaders? The panel presentations shed a wealth of insight into the formation of such people.

Panel 4 looked at Identity and Character in Literary Figures. The characters in great works of literature, and today on the movie screen, have a great impact on our sense of identity. As remote observers of these stories, we identify positively and negatively with the actions and decisions of literary figures-both heroes and villains. Unlike the figures on the historical panel, the characters in the literary works suffered a tragic fate. Cordelia in Shakespeare's King Lear remained truthful even though their world was falling apart. Okonkwo in Achebe's Things Fall Apart failed to adjust to the modern and colonial changes in Africa leading him to becoming an outcast. Captain Ahab in Moby Dick was a man of indomitable will who became a crippled and driven figure responsible for the death of his crew. The tragic fate awaits those whom we often recognize as "human," yet the true leader has sense of self and of loyalty to the community which allows for successful adaptation to new social and physical realities.

The final group of plenary presentations examined "Identity in a Pluralistic Age." The fifteen presenters in this section focused more on collective identities and policy. Whereas traditional identity for much of the world was shaped among one's kin in a small geographic area, today identity is created in global conditions with family members often separated by large distances. Other types of communities have arisen which influence our identity. Religion, gender, race, nationality, and ethnic identities compete among one another for loyalties and state policies. The background for the discussion was set forth by Nicholas Kittrie, Gordon Anderson, Jan Knappert, Jack Susman and Daniel Robinson. They looked at issues of identity in the modern world, the relation of individual to collective identities, the problem of alienation and historical approaches. Then specific papers were presented on the questions of race, nationality, religion, gender. Thirdly, were papers that looked at identity with respect to certain groups: Arabs, the New "Soviet Man," Black Africans and South Africans.

Following the 40 presentations of the first 2 1/2 of the conference, PWPA delegates from 100 countries broke into regional sessions to discuss issues of identity and character as relates to their own part of the globe. They had each prepared reports that were compiled in a conference book Identity and Character: A Worldwide Survey. They also came to the conference table with specific concerns, issues and ideas to discuss.

The Latin Americans are divided according to identities with Europe, Africa, and the Native Americans. The most common problems are:

Increased urbanization leading to decreased family loyalty. Problems of migration from Latin America to the United States. The erosion of civility and mutual respect. Globalization and its effect on the economy and the higher cost of law.

The Asians noted they have been developing their post-colonial identity since World War II. The region is a melting pot of migrating peoples in which leaders of national independence have always seemed to have an insatiable demand for power. Even today's democracies are autocracies in democratic skin which continue to ignore the will of the people.

The Europeans noted that identity was lost with the collapse of communism and many people and nations are attempting to return to the pre-communist identity of their grandparents. In the West, millions of migrants are affecting the identities of once homogeneous states. New Europe is becoming much more multi-cultural and this is creating tension with those who hang on to traditional identities, shouting slogans like "Germany for the Germans." Right-wing authoritarianism is on the rise following in the wake of left-wing collapse. Creating a new identity is harder than returning to xenophobic movements. The Europeans though that the United States could be instructive for them; otherwise the newcomers may become a type of global underclass. Those in the former Soviet Bloc expressed a strong interest in having PWPA hold a regional conference related to identity-individual, ethnic, and national-- in the post-soviet world.

The Africans distilled identities operating simultaneously, those that identify with African traditions, those that have mixed traditional and foreign identities and those that have take on western identity. They asked PWPA to hold a major congress in Africa and would like to see financial support for activities.

The Middle East group gave some hope that the turmoil and war of the last 40 years might be subsiding. Using Lebanon as a case in point, they found unifying factors in language and history. They noted that the authoritarianism in Iran may also be on the wane. Although the country is still run by the defenders of traditional Islam, there is a larger group of the population which works toward modernization.

Overall, the panelists and the international delegates expressed gratitude to attend this event which was marked by the high level of papers and discussion on a theme that all felt was relevant to present society and their own nation's issues. Credit is certainly due to Morton Kaplan for developing the vision for the conference and the William Garrett and Jude Doughterty, who helped secure the paper writers.

The conference will generate two or three books. It is expected that they will be in high demand for college courses.

Gordon L. Anderson is Secretary General of PWPA.

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