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What the Japanese can teach us about courage in crisis

By Margie Warrell


Courage and honor lie at the very heart of Japanese culture. And amidst one of the most catastrophic disasters of modern times we have seen it shine through in the most inspiring ways. .

The immensity of the disaster is still incomprehensible to me. As I sit in my comfortable home watching TV footage of what were once ‘homes’ to thousands of others being decimated by a devastating tsunami I am left with not only extra-ordinary compassion, but also with a sense of disbelief. And if I am honest, an element of gratitude that it is not me. Four trains, including a bullet train with 400 passengers, have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Four nuclear reactors are in various stages of meltdown and electricity blackouts roll out across the nation of nearly 130 million people. Fear of radio active exposure grows steadily by the day. .

Thousands upon thousands of Japanese are spending today with very limited rations of rood and water. At night, as the temperatures drop below freezing, they live in temporary shelters. They have no idea how long they will be there. And over the last few days thousands of bodies have washed up upon the shores. Bodies of people who only a week ago were going about their lives. It is only reasonable that those left behind are yet to fully comprehend what is so incomprehensible. .

Yet amidst the destruction, the growing fear of nuclear radiation, and tragic loss of life, the Japanese have continued to display extraordinary calm, courage and dignity.  There have been no reports of looting as we have at times witnessed following other catastrophic events.  Scan the web or the TV and you will not find any video footage of drunks, bullies or people fighting over meager resources. What you will see are people standing in lines for hours, calmly waiting their turn to get whatever share of the limited supplies there are. They take care of their elders and show deference to those who need extra help. To each other, they are civil and polite. Their dignity in the presence of disaster is both humbling and remarkable and it holds a powerful lesson for us all. .

The behavior of those in Japan shows us that it is not what happens to us that matters, but how we choose to respond to it. Taking personal responsibility for our own behavior while respecting the needs of the larger community to which we belong is important always. But in a crisis, much less one of this magnitude, it is crucial. .

And while you might feel like you don’t share much in common with those whose lives have been turned upside down in a country thousands of miles from your own, I challenge you to think again. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, just like you and I.  Many have lost everything they own. Some have lost everyone they love. And while we cannot begin to imagine the depth of their loss or grief or shock, what we can do is consider how we can resond with greater dignity, courage and calm to the challenges in our own life.  That, and dig into our pockets and support those organizations who will be helping these people rebuild their lives… even if not in the same place or in the same way they were before. .

What the world may best learn from the great Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 are simple concepts with names like courage, resilience, honor, dignity, civility, optimism, hope and generosity of spirit.  May their example inspire us to live with a little more ourselves.


Margie Warrell is an internationally Certified Professional & Life Coach, acclaimed Speaker and Best Selling Author who helps people Think Bigger & Live Bolder to achieve outstanding success in all areas of their life. To learn more about her award winning book Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill), a range of powerful programs, and to receive her free monthly eNewsletter please visit http://www.margiewarrell.com/.


10 things to learn from Japan


  1. THE CALM
    Not a single visual of wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.
  2. THE DIGNITY
    Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.
  3. THE ABILITY
    The incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn't fall.
  4. THE GRACE
    People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.
  5. THE ORDER
    No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.
  6. THE SACRIFICE
    50 workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?
  7. THE TENDERNESS
    Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.
  8. THE TRAINING
    The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.
  9. THE MEDIA
    Magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No reporters sensationalizing. Only calm reporting.
  10. THE CONSCIENCE
    When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly.
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