Old Normal?? – Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #44 ~ March 6th

I’ve been back in Japan for a couple of weeks, supporting our new Tohoku Futures Network.  It’s been nearly three months since my last report.  Time spent resting, thinking, and working to see next steps.  This year some of what I need to do is sensing some of the underlying patterns, trends and guideposts which can guide our work on transformative change.  I’ve recently done a bit of deeper writing which is available here:  http://bit.ly/Transform_JP.  It’s the start of the theory/meaning making side of a book I hope to write this year.

As has been the case on each of my trips, things continue to change.  In many parts of the region I hear people talking about how the creative space available post 3.11 is closing down. People are caught up more in their egos, their fears and their personalities.  The disasters opened a crack in the old system.  There’s been constant pressure to close the crack and to get back to the old normal — even if things weren’t working so well.  This sense of return to the old normal is much less present in Fukushima, where there’s not really any old normal to return to in the radiated parts of the province — but even there some of the cooperative attitudes are diminishing.

At one recent FutureSession on “natural energy” in Fukushima I my attention was drawn to several things:

  • The clear determination of those present to make a new future in Fukushima.
  • The detailed work, by many, on alternative energy sources — everything from solar-supported auqaponic and hydroponic growing systems for food to careful analysis of where wind and solar would work best.
  • A sense of  “stuckness” in terms of moving ahead with these different ideas, in part because they are not visible to many people.

Here’s what’s going on in Fukushima and across the region.  Funds which were available for the “emergency phase” are almost gone.  The clear focus and purposefulness of what needs to happen next that was present in the emergency phase is gone.  The NPOs and others supporting communities during the emergency phase are cutting back — in part because they don’t have funding and in part because they are not sure what to do.  Meanwhile, things are stabilized, but the “new now” has not come into form.  Many, many small scale initiatives and projects and small businesses have been launched.  The government is busy creating City Plans and other plans to which most people feel no connection.  Climate of cooperation is decreasing.

Last weekend I led a FutureSession with 20 or so people in their 20s and 30s who have been working in the region.  Initially they came as “right arm” fellows from ETIC.  They completed their internships of 3-12 months, and then have stayed on in the region.  They have a deep commitment to service in Tohoku.  The question we moved to very quickly in the weekend is “how do we do our work now?”  We listened, we talked, we spent time in silence and we worked with play doh to help find answers.  They are amazing, committed people.

Part of what is needed is personal practice — learning to be in what I now think of as the dance of intention and surrender:  having deep and clear intention and surrendering time and time again to how this will manifest in the world.  Holding the intention while surrendering certainty about the path forward. At one point during the weekend, after a Skype with my spouse Susan Virnig, I followed Susan’s suggestion and got the six women present together in a group.  Later my interpreter told me one of the interesting things they talked about was that they were hearing men frequently say we need to get a woman on this team.  This is just astonishing in Japan where there are still pretty strong gender boundaries.  I think it speaks to men seeing the capacities women bring to be with the work in a more relational way.

Another part is learning how to work collectively with a view of how change can happen.  I’m hesitant to call this a theory of change because that always sounds so pretentious.  At least in my case, I can claim to have some ideas about how change happens, but not much more.   I’ve had so much chance over the last three years to work with so many different people here in so many contexts and have had the chance to bring the ideas about change that we developed in the first decade of this century at The Berkana Institute.  Part of what I am called to do this year is to combine the stories I have been writing in this Resilient Japan blog with some more theoretical framing like I started with  http://bit.ly/Transform_JP.

The next thing I am focusing on this year is how to bring in new knowledge and perspective in ways that support rather than overwhelm people in local communities.  FutureCenters seem to be an ideal place for mixing outside and inside knowledge.  We’re working on three ideas:

  • Last week some of us gathered to consider whether or not a Transformative Scenario Planning approach might be helpful.  Those are big words.  What they really mean is gathering diverse people together to think about what could be and how we would act to create it.  It may be that this approach of developing New Stories might be helpful.  We’re looking closely at it, studying Adam Kahane’s work together, and looking at some work beginning in May which might lead into an event in November introducing transformative scenario planning.
  • Over the last handful of years there has been a growing Transition Town movement in Japan.  A friend of mine, Hide Enomoto, introduced Transition Towns in Japan and speaks about them a bit on a video.  Next week Hide and I are convening a small meeting of some of the leadership from Transition Towns in Japan with some people from the Tohoku Futures Network on how this learning might be shared.
  • Finally, I’m working with several different business groups around the question of how businesses can form new partnerships in Tohoku.

All of these take a lot of patience.  Frequently, I use a small turtle here as a talking piece.  It helps me remember that we have to go slow at first in order to go fast later on.

There’s a lot moving in Japan right now.  What happens, how we proceed, is one of those ongoing mysteries.  Next week is the second anniversary of the disasters.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more.



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