10 things to learn from Japan
1. THE CALM - Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.
2. THE DIGNITY - Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.
3. THE ABILITY - The incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn’t fall.
4. THE GRACE - People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.
5. THE ORDER - No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.
6. THE SACRIFICE - Fifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?
7. THE TENDERNESS - Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.
8. THE TRAINING - The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.
9. THE MEDIA - They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No sensationalizing. Only calm reportage.
10. THE CONSCIENCE - When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly
This makes the nation great.
Why The Japanese Aren't Looting
Foreign observers are noting with curiosity and wonder that the Japanese people in disaster-plagued areas are not looting for desperately-needed supplies like bottled water. This behavior contrasts sharply with what has so often happened in the wake of catastrophes elsewhere, such as Haiti, New Orleans, Chile, and the UK, to name only a few. Most people chalk up the extraordinary good behavior to Japanese culture, noting the legendary politeness of Japanese people in everyday life.
Culture does play a role, but it is not an adequate explanation. After all, in the right circumstances, Japanese mass behavior can rank with the worst humanity has to offer, as in the Rape of Nanking. There are clearly other factors at work determining mass outbreaks of good and bad behavior among the Japanese, and for that matter, anyone else.
There are, in fact, lessons to be learned from the Japanese good behavior by their friends overseas, lessons which do not require wholesale adoption of Japanese culture, from eating sushito sleeping on tatami mats. It is more a matter of social structure than culture keeping the Japanese victims of catastrophe acting in the civilized and enlightened manner they have displayed over the past few days.
The Cruise Ship and the Ferryboat
Many years ago, a worldly and insightful Japanese business executive offered me an analogy that gets to heart of the forces keeping the Japanese in line, that has nothing to do with culture. "Japanese people," he told me, "are like passengers on a cruise ship. They know that they are stuck with the same people around them for the foreseeable future, so they are polite, and behave ve in ways that don't make enemies, and keep everything on a friendly and gracious basis."
"Americans," he said, "are like ferryboat passengers. They know that at the end of a short voyage they will get off and may never see each other again. So if they push ahead of others to get off first, there are no real consequences to face. It is every man for himself."
Perhaps more successfully than any other people of the world, the Japanese have evolved a social system capable of ensuring order and good behavior. The vast reservoir of social strength brought Japan through the devastation of World War II, compared to which even the massive problems currently afflicting it, are relatively small. Japan has sustained a major blow, but its robust social order will endure, and ultimately thrive.
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