Sunday, April 17, 2011

Self-esteem and Discipline

Hi everyone,

After sitting together with a friend this past weekend, we got into an interesting discussion about the visible differences in self-esteem between people in the US and Japan. Just by examining an average person from each country, it is apparent as to what type of societal standards and expectations are placed on them that eventually shape their perception of themselves and their surroundings.

In Japan, perception plays a significant role within society. People pay a great deal of attention to others' image, but care equally as much about how they are perceived by others. The societal rules dictate the idea of "right" and "wrong" and are firmly cemented, thus pressuring people to follow what is deemed "correct" by these standards. Disciplinary measures are strictly implemented, forcing those who "stand out of line to get hammered back in" (a commonly known expression in Japan). Japanese are told not to question the reasons as to why something is the case, but instead, are to just follow orders as told. While this approach is effective at disciplining people to discern right from wrong or good from bad, it prevents people from further developing an understanding of self. People work hard to fulfill the standards set by society, but it counters people from gaining individual strength or attaining some sort of self-worth.

Sometime during the 1970's in the US, researchers garnered a great deal of attention by pushing what was called the "self-esteem movement." In a nutshell, this movement tried to improve the quality of children's self-worth by positive reinforcement and rewarding everyone with a 'pat on the back, despite winning or losing.' It also enforced the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinion or ways, no matter if it is the wrong approach or not. Approaches to spankings, dunce hats, and time-outs, became quite controversial at this time, as they were still considered 'normal disciplinary measures.' This movement spawned a new set of ideals as to how to educate future generations of children, thereby creating the now 'modern' USA as we see it today.

Having lived in the US for quite some time, I grew up with these ideologies. I was taught a firm set of standards of 'right' and 'wrong' to follow within society, but was also trained to create my own personal standards to maintain individuality. Despite your differences in values with other people, you also had to accept that people 'chose' their own ideologies in life. While there is a great strength found in individuality, I also was guilty of abusing this privilege. I easily excused other people's opinions of me by reserving it as 'their own' and used any reason to shield my image and actions as being acceptable. This virtually left me with little room for any self-improvement and only made me more vulnerable to real hardship. This mentality enabled me to disregard others' 'actual perceptions,' thereby boosting my own image and self-esteem greater than what it was perceived to be. In order to encourage any sort of inner-growth, I had to apply this pressure to myself on my own.

Several critics in the US of this movement from this article here, are excerpted from this story stating:

"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong... it's just bad writing."

"There is an incredible sense of entitlement for people who don't deserve it. They'll come in right out of college and don't understand why they're not getting promoted in three months. Self-esteem for them meant you're the focus of society's attention."

Now that I am living in Japan, these set of expectations and standards are completely reversed. I can no longer use this mentality to validate my actions and I am expected to follow the trends to at least maintain an 'average' status. Although it might be perceived by Americans as a 'bad thing,' I don't particularly see it that way. Personally, I feel as though I have grown much more from the societal expectations of living here, something I did not feel back in the US.

While both cultures have their advantages and disadvantages, it is apparent that each culture is an opposite extreme. Elevated self-esteem leaves little room for growth and self-development, whereas lower self-esteem decreases motivation and inner-strength. If given a choice, what method would be more effective in the long-run? What standards better fulfill a well-rounded society?

I leave you with this humorous video of George Carlin and his personal opinions of self-esteem and modern society in the US. Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

One Month after the Kanto Earthquake.

Hi everyone,

First off, I'd like to thank everyone for all the kind messages and e-mails I've received. Although this blog only reaches a limited audience within my circle of friends and family, I'd still like to express my gratitude and appreciation for everyone's concerns.

I want to reassure everyone that I am safe and am the picture of health. Although there is so much to say about the event that took place, I cannot find all the words to describe the calamity that it was (even here in Tokyo) on & after March 11, 2011.

Many restaurants and stores were closed or empty for the first several weeks. Many of the train lines were completely stopped. Previously bustling towns were empty ghost-towns. Friends and family fled from their homes to other areas of Japan or even as far as other countries. Japan was in a state of repressed fear and panic for the first several weeks, especially with the news of radioactive leaks in the air/water and continuing aftershocks. The Japanese news reports tried not to overexaggerate the chaos, but the imagery and the video footage taken by residents and bystanders were enough to shake the entire nation. News overseas, on the otherhand, overexaggerated this news far more than what our own public broadcasts were reporting. Despite being well-prepared for strong earthquakes, Japan was not ready to face the power of the underestimated Tsunami. The earthquake did relatively little damage by comparison.

Its been about one month since the great Kanto quake. Many train lines have restarted again, shops have now re-opened, and many big businesses have resumed their head operations in Tokyo. Most Japanese people are trying to re-adjust themselves to the normal rhythm of their everyday lives again, but were taken by surprise from a Magnitude 7.1 aftershock at 8 AM this past Monday. The strong aftershocks still continue and the epicenters of these quakes are slowly traveling down south. People now fear that the next big quake will eventually hit the Tokyo area. It is a constant and eerie reminder of the damage and the many lives lost in the Tohoku area.

There has been a lot of talk about what the future of Japan will be. Many American analysts are speculating that it is "over for them." I beg to differ.

When World War 2 came to a close with the dropping of the atomic bomb, Japan was in the very same position (also with regard to radioactivity). Although many misdeeds and catastrophes took place, people just tried to put these events in the past, rebuild and resume their lives. The mindset was that "the current situation is a result of our own doing. we just need to move forward and try not to look back." The collective strength of the Japanese brought the nation back up on its feet, becoming (for a time) one of the most thriving nations in the world. Having been in a state of 「平和ボケ」or dumb-founded peace for so many years after the war, the Japanese youth have been spoiled by the numerous luxuries that society offers. What were once considered priviledges in the past, are now expected benefits. Many do not understand the meaning of working-hard, nor realize why they are working so hard. Motivation for living day-to-day has become a chore. However, with such catastrophe burned into so many Japanese minds, it can potentially revitalize the people's cause and strengthen their desire to work hard together once more. It is this collective strength that really shines within the Japanese society.

Various global journalists have examined the working ethic of the Japanese and have found great praise and respect for their discipline and patience since the aftermath of the quake. Many have also commented that if such chaos took place within their own home nations, it is likely that widespread panic will overtake the people and collective efforts are unlikely to be seen. Such collectivism in other global nations is not as unified as Japan, granted that many of these societies encourage more independence and individuality. This observation of the Japanese society is exactly what I believe will heal the country. So long as the people work together to revitalize their nation once more, Japan can continue its prosperity.