April 14 ~ Notes from Japan #6

Yesterday morning the earth shook in Tokyo twice as I sat here at my hotel desk.  They are what are now considered mild quakes — just a little more than 5 Magnitude — and both around 100 miles away.  This is part of the new normal here.  The earth just shakes from time to time.  People notice immediately (sometimes aided by little iPhone Apps that set of an alarm).  I notice I wait, a little surprised, but not really, and wonder how long will this last and should I be doing something other than sitting here, watching the shaking.

A little later, I went downstairs and outside into a lovely, sunny Tokyo morning.  Spring has popped completely into being here.  The cherry blossoms have moved past prime, but on my street, gorgeous purple tulips now mark the path.  Such an interesting contrast — earth shakes and purple tulips bloom.  Life finds a way to be normal.

Lot’s of thinking activity going on on about how to grow a network of 500 or so FutureCenters as spaces of innovation and change.  I’ll write about that a bit later.  Right now I want to share some of what happened at a gathering last night.

Forty or so people came.

Most were folks I had an opportunity to meet and work with last year — teachers, students, personal coaches, web designers, business people, government workers, facilitators.  A somewhat unusual collection of wonderful folks who have become community to each other through Art of Hosting.  In a check-in circle, we reminded each other of when we each had become part of this community and then talked about how life has been since 3/11.  A number of those present have spent time volunteering in the Tohoku region in the last month.  Some have family there.

As I listened, one of the themes which came up time and time again was that people are searching for the right way to stand with and behind people who live in the Tohoku.  Sano-sensei, who has left a post teaching social innovation to graduate students at Rikkyo University is starting an NPO for this purpose.  There’s just a boat load of people wanting to volunteer, people starting NPOs, corporations wanting to help.  Earlier in the day I heard about a major data services company which is seeing its mission shift from “exchange of  data to exchange of personal will.”  They’re planning on sending people in to Tohoku to listen deeply to discover how people what to be connected and exchange their personal wills.  But back to last night’s meeting.  Part of the sense I picked up is that for everyone, trying to think of all the Tohoku is just paralyzing.  They need to find one place where they can form more intimate human connections.  In that place, they need to listen and listen and listen.  They need to find the local people who are starting to step forward with some leadership and work with them.  They need to not rush in and try to fix things.

One of the things I’ve shared on a number of occasions is  something Meg Wheatley wrote earlier this week.  Normally in situations like this people go in and ask “what do you need?”  Its a totally overwhelming question.  The question to be asking is “what do you have?” Starting from this place of what we have will often eventually lead to needs.  But needs which arise out of what we have are totally different than the staggering weight of asking someone whose old life is gone what they need.

The sensitivity to wanting to come into right relationship with people from communities in the Tohoku is strong.  One of the things we keep talking about, probably since I am present, is how to create and connect self-organizing systems in the Tohoku.  There’s a knowing that first there needs to be a continual hosting of the grief everyone feels.  People outside the Tohoku feel guilty for having grief when they have not personally experienced the devastation of Tohoku’s people.  The grief is just everywhere.  People speak of how often, and how easily tears come to the corners of their eyes.  This grief will be present for a long time all begins by hosting it.

Some of the folks who had been present at Kiyosato last weekend spoke of how it was important for us to have spent the first day just being in our confusion together before we started to move on to develop some ideas that might be of help.  Grief, confusion, listening.  They’re all needed before action comes.

Another thing that happened during the evening is we talked about how different the disasters of 3/11 feel than the Kobe earthquake 16 years ago.  Certainly there are the physical differences — much wider area, many more people, the triology of quakes/tsunami/nuclear, the continuing medium magnitude quakes, the unraveling nuclear disaster.  All those differences play a role, AND it feels like there is something deeper present as well.  A couple of days ago one person I was speaking with talked about how in this collectivist culture, grief and emotion travel subtly and rapidly through the cultural membrane.  So there’s this feeling present and it is present all over Japan.  Another colleague talked about how she has found ways to switch the feeling off — to be able to act as if normal is here.  It gets easier to distance oneself from this emotional field when further away than Tokyo.  But it is still there.

So, the insight that dropped into the room is that 16 years ago, most people thought they were still in a world where things were just going to get better and better.  Sure, a few adjustments might be needed, but generally speaking, life was good.  You might say that there was still a desirable normal to which one could return.  What was clear from the work I was doing here last year is that there were already massive shifts taking place.  The change in political leadership here, after a 50+ year dominance by the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) was one surface manifestation of this desire for change — but it was clear it ran much deeper and that many people were in questions about what kind of life they wanted — because they didn’t like the one they had.

This series of disasters has dropped in on top of a wide-spread sense that deep change is needed.  So it ends up being experienced in multiple ways — as a horrific disaster, as a release from a future people didn’t want anymore, as a huge set of uncertainties about how to move forward.  It bears little resemblance to the world of 16 years ago.

Blessings,

Bob

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