The Stoicism of the Japanese
For the last several weeks, we have all watched, horrified, as Japan has been devastated by one of the worst earthquakes in modern history, followed by a massive tsunami, and then culminating in plumes of radiation seeping into the atmosphere from its damaged nuclear reactors. The images of physical destruction are simply mind-boggling, and the emotional toll also seems unimaginable. This is a country that is going to be dealing with this tragedy for years to come.
Yet, do you know what astonishes me? It’s watching the people of Japan face their catastrophe with a kind of stoicism and, strangely, a grace. We haven’t seen any looting in Japan for desperately-needed supplies, like bottled water. We haven’t seen fistfights break out among the people waiting in line for hours to get gasoline or groceries. For years, I’ve heard about the legendary politeness of Japanese people in everyday life, but I just thought it was a cliché. How are they able to maintain such calm in the face of overwhelming disaster?
I’m hardly someone who thinks Japan’s way of life is in any way better than ours. But at the same time, I will say, there is something to be said for the ordinary Japanese citizen’s respect for order, good manners and hospitality. The other day, I was stunned to watch one elderly woman, standing in the cold outside her wrecked home, offer ABC anchor Diane Sawyer some water because she looked thirsty.
And what about the selflessness epitomized by those workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, risking dangerous doses of radiation without complaint as they struggle to prevent a complete meltdown that would endanger their fellow citizens?
I’m no expert in culture, and I’m not going to pretend to say I understand why the vast majority of Japanese people are enduring these impossible hardships with impeccable dignity, but we could all learn a few lessons from their example. I also hope we’ll all say a little prayer for that country. Yes, Japan is one of our great industrialized powers, and it will someday recover. But it has a long way to go. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese who live in the northern part of the country will have to endure months of homelessness and hunger.
If you want to help, you can go to the American Red Cross website and make a contribution for the victims of the earthquake and the tsunami, as well as for those families fleeing the nuclear radiation. My prayers are with Japan.