In the wake of Japan’s recent devastating earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear reactor breakdowns, there have been many stories about how people there have responded to the emergency situations and the survival aftermath. In my mind, it’s brought up the question of what is truly important to each of us, and how we live that out.
A New York Times article of March 17th about reactions of people in Tokyo, about 170 miles south of the earthquake’s epicenter, said that “most Japanese are trying to uphold the ethic that they are taught from childhood: to do their best, persevere, and suppress their own feelings for the sake of the group.” The group ethic is strong-- which can be stifling for individual self-expression, but also insures the willing support of the community for its own survival. As an electronics technician in Tokyo said, “I can’t [leave this area] because I have to work my hardest [now] for my customers.”
Up in Sendai, close to the epicenter, an American resident wrote in Ode magazine that “it’s utterly amazing that where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines . . . The Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day . . . and I find food and water left in my entrance way . . . People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.
From both these sources, it’s clear that in Japan, during times of need, at least, the value of “community” is a strong one, transcending individual fears, doubts, and confusion, and supporting the whole society.
Now I’d like to riff off the Japanese experience to explore what matters most to you at this time. Do you want more social cohesion or more opportunities to expand your dreams for personal fulfillment? Is there a way to balance the community values based on a more traditional society with the sense of expanded possibilities for individuals more prevalent in a more free-floating society such ours in the urban United States? We might also ask, can a more individually oriented society come together as well in emergency conditions?
As a life coach, I support many people who have come up against a wall where they lose confidence about going forward towards new, more satisfying careers. Their biggest fear is often what their family-- spouses and parents-- reflect back to them about the consequences to family stability of not continuing along the paths of their earlier training and work. To which other questions arise-- What is it to be truly secure? When do we need to trust our dreams in this regard? Where do we really find our support?