Against the cataclysmic forces of Nature, few have responded as well as the Japanese (courtesy of Joseph Friedman)
Have you wondered what made the Japanese such a resilient and robust group of people? How do they overcome the challenges of living in one of the most disaster prone area of the world?
Often, it is in the worst of times that you see the best in people. Nothing is more true than how the Japanese faced the recent Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on the Northeast coast of Japan.
According to this wonderful post from Garr Reynolds’ of Presentation Zen, the Japanese have demonstrated such exemplary traits of strength despite facing tremendous adversity because of the following three qualities:
In Japanese companies, people are often transferred to different parts of the company with the intention of learning different aspects of the business. This process of tearing down and building again is part and parcel of life in Japan.
According to Reynolds, it is also associated with a culture that valued personal responsibility, diligence, humility, a sense of belonging, and contributing to a community.
According to a Japanese proverb: “Nana korobi ya oki” (literally: seven falls, eight getting up) the Japanese know that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you get up again. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
This ethic of bouncing back is reinforced in all facets of Japanese culture. It includes education, business, sports, and the martial arts.
This is related to the one above and is the spirit of gambaru (頑張る). It deals with the issue of tenacity and sticking persistently and doggedly until a task is done.
I like the literal term “gambette” which is like the Chinese saying “jiayou” (加油) which means “fight on!” and “never give up!” In good times or bad, one shouldn’t complaint, behave selfishly or do things which don’t contribute to the overall good. Rather, one should keep fighting and slay that negative or defeatist attitude.
Other than the above, I’d like to propose the following additional points for our learning purposes:
Being able to remain steadfast despite one’s circumstances, the Japanese are legendary in their ability to remain calm under pressure.
Few need to be reminded of how stoic the Japanese have remained in the face of tremendous adversity. From the replies of ordinary Japanese affected by the disaster to the media, to the way they behave in orderly fashion, one can tell that they are a people who can focus on what needed to be done as opposed to wailing and complaining over the calamities that have befallen them.
Embracing the principles of Zen and mindfulness, the Japanese are able to elevate beyond their immediate circumstances.
Through adopting a meditative attitude full of mindfulness, the Japanese were able to clarify their thoughts and to focus on the task at hand. I guess this also allowed the Japanese to separate themselves from the situation and not be overcome by debilitating grief or utter panic. By tuning out all negative emotions and destructive feelings, they emerged more strongly than before.
Finally, it is clear that the spirit of sacrifice and the Confucian belief of putting the community before self is imbued in many Japanese.
The heroic workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant (known as the Fukushima 50) have clearly demonstrated this virtue by being willing to step into eminent danger despite knowing the huge risks they are putting themselves into.
From the experience seen in the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, we can tell that the Japanese have high levels of Adversity Quotient (AQ). This is defined by Dr Paul Stoltz to contain four key elements:
(You can read more about resilience and adversity in my blog post “Will You Do Whatever It Takes?”)
We certainly have a lot to learn from the stoicism, resilience and self-sacrificial spirit of the Japanese, especially here in Singapore!
Having said the above, it would still take a huge amount of willpower, fortitude, and “can-do” spirit to rebuild Japan after the huge damage inflicted by Mother Nature. Life may never be the same again for many.
However, I am fully confident that our friends from the Land of the Rising Sun will ascend yet again and be the economic and cultural powerhouse of the East, shaping trends, tastes and technology.