Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Object Lesson

An Object Lesson

Although it has ceased to be headline news, Japan's struggle to cope with a nuclear nightmare continues. Recent forecasts are that it will take many more months for the stricken power plant at Fukushima to be brought under control. Meanwhile, the cost to the Japanese economy of rebuilding homes and infrastructure destroyed by the earthquake and the resulting tsunami is now estimated at 25 trillion yen, or approximately $300 billion.

The situation in Japan has given us a sobering reminder of the dark side of technology. The misery and suffering that many ordinary Japanese people are now experiencing are an example of the potentially terrible consequences of technology gone wrong. No American who lives anywhere near a nuclear power station can have failed to wonder whether a similar catastrophe might some day befall the United States.

But it's truly an ill wind that blows nobody any good. There is much that we in the west can learn from Japan, if our minds are open to it. The Japanese people have given the world an object lesson in how to behave in the face of adversity.

Japan is a very different society from western countries, where individualism is considered a virtue and looked upon as a healthy feature of the democratic system. Unlike Americans, the Japanese prize order and conformity and collective solutions and consensus. The result is a society in which orderliness is the norm and stoicism is admired.

The evidence of Japanese orderliness is plain to see at any time. But the depth of the Japanese character traits that underlie that orderliness are most apparent when the country is under the kind of stress which it now feels. In other countries that suffer calamities on an equivalent scale, mass violence and despair are typical reactions. The response of the Japanese to their current situation has been one of dogged determination to see it through and to accept with equanimity whatever will be necessary to overcome it.

I wish I could believe that people in the West, Americans in particular, will learn from Japan's plight and be changed by it for the better but I cannot be that optimistic. The biggest question is not whether Japan will recover from the blow it has been dealt - it certainly will - but whether we who look upon events there from afar will learn anything at all from the lesson that is now available to us.

Those who pray for Japan during its hour of need are to be commended. Better yet to pray for our own country while it has the opportunity to learn from the misfortunes of another. In the years to come, the consequences of climate change and global warming are likely to test us at least as significantly as Japan is being tested today. A day will come when we will need every ounce of national character that we can muster.
Writer: Richard Teasdale