September 2nd ~ Bob Stilger’s Notes on Japan #19: Then and Now

Dear friends,

I have returned to Japan for a short two weeks of work at the end of the summer.  Much has shifted since I left Japan in early June.  Three months ago the dominant emotion in the air was grief, surrounded by a sea of confusion.  The confusion is still present.  And, of course the grief is still close at hand.  But something else is working.  Some speak of the anger they feel in their stomach.  Others name it as a sense of unease, a restlessness.  When I try to name what is alive here what comes to me is a trilogy:

  • We must change.
  • The future is now.
  • We can’t wait for anyone — we must do this ourselves.

I remember back in a workshop in Nagoya in May I surprised myself by telling one of the leaders of the civic sector there that I thought it was time for Japanese to stop being so well behaved.  I am not sure who was more shocked by my comments — me or her.  It is not the kind of thing I normally say here.  But this is one way of naming the spirit present now.  It is time to stop being so well behaved.  People know they can’t wait for the government or those in other positions of power.  Creating the future now is up to all of us.

This past week we held the second Youth Leadership Dialogue at the KEEP in Kiyosato.  About 70 people came.  Nearly half were in their 20s, a quarter in their 30s.  Seven children from 2 to 7 were with us as well.  It was a wonderful three days.

There’s still a lot of confusion.  A dozen or so of those who participated have been working in the disaster area.  Their work has been hard, wearing away at their spirit.  There is so much to do.  Part of the anger others feel is that they don’t know what to do — and feel they must do something.  But the answers aren’t easy.  The path isn’t clear.

What is clear to many is that this isn’t just about the Tohoku Region.  The earth shook, the tsunami came, the nuclear reactors spewed their terrible waste in Tohoku — but it is all of Japan and all of the world that needs to change.  Where to start?  I them stories about Marianne Knuth and Pioneers of Change ( and Kufunda Learning Village (  The five core principles of Pioneers of Change are as pertinent now as they were when they were developed over a decade ago:

  • Be yourself.  It is up to each of us, as moral beings, to decide how to act and to freely form our contribution to the whole. We must think this reality through, and not hide from it. This means looking inside oneself and asking “What are the basic principles which help me decide what is good?”, being able to listen to one’s intuition, even when it contradicts the social structures around us. We are all a part of life, and we all have a unique contribution to make. What is it?
  • Do what matters.  The world needs us more than ever. It needs pioneers to be treating problems at the root causes, not just the symptoms, to be making change at a systemic level. Doing what matters requires a capacity to diagnose the problems we face, to understand the underlying patterns, to remove barriers, to find the leverage points and make the change there. It requires us to be conscious of the consequences of our actions, and to choose to do good, not harm, according to the deeper values and the higher ideals we each hold.
  • Start now.  The future is created by how we live now. It is not necessary to compromise who we are in the present, or to wait to take off the lid that is keeping us from allowing our creative expression to be put to use in areas that matter to us and the world. We don’t focus on all the reasons why it might not work – if the platform and tools do not exist to make our dream possible, we get going in creating them. Learning comes with action.
  • Engage with Others.  Connect with something bigger than yourself. Search for those who are working on similar or related things, share ideas with them, ask them for help and work with them where useful. Be willing to offer them help when they need it as well. Engaging with others is about engaging with those who share your visions, but also about engaging with those who think differently from you and are doing something that may seem completely different and unrelated. Engage across diversity, for that is how we learn.
  • Never Stop Asking Questions.  Understanding is constantly evolving, and there is always the possibility of future discovery. While committing to our current intentions, we have to continue to question our own views as we continue to question others and listen to their answers. As we start to view the world from the perspective of life, more and more practices around us simply do not make sense. We are surrounded by paradoxes in a phase when established systems no longer meet our needs. We need to perceive and question these paradoxes, daring to appear naive, while developing the capacity to transcend them. As Einstein said, no problem is solved from the same consciousness that created it.

This is a precious time in Japan. In the three days we spent together, people walked away with both more clarity and more confusion.  What’s key is learning how to act without being deterred by confusion.  Things will be muddy for a long time.  That doesn’t mean we act precipitously.  And we don’t act alone:  we rely on each other.  We practice patience and as it says in the  Tao Te Ching, we learn to wait until our water is clear.

Tao Te Ching #15

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fufillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things

— translated by Stephen Mitchell (2006)



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