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Japan's code of honor

by Caroline Myss, The Buddhist Channel, March 22, 2011

How the killer tsunami rekindled the spirit of humanity in the Japanese people

Sendai, Japan -- An inspirational story from Japan is being shared, words from a sister in Sendai: "If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come fill up their jugs. I come back to my shack and I find food and water left in my entrance. There has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open. People say, "Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another."

<< Residents of Oarai form a long line to wait for food

This small story is touching the hearts of thousands of people. Today on a conference call, someone read this story to an entire group of people, then added, "What an example of love and compassion."  She was mistaken. Such actions are not just motivated by love and compassion. The absence of looting is not the result of love and compassion. Nor is the choice to stand in line patiently, waiting your turn.

This is the result of having a deeply rooted sense of honor. The choice to not steal from a person who has already lost nearly everything in a catastrophe comes from realizing that such an act is the ultimate dishonorable choice.  The Japanese come from a society rooted in a long running code of honor, of not losing face.  Nothing would be more dishonorable to a Japanese person than to steal from another person who has lost home, business, or family, much less much of the nation they share.

An honor code is power - period. And we are witnessing that power holding the social fabric of Japan together.

In schools in the United States, words such as "morality" and "ethics", much less "honor" are practically banned. Fundamentalists and other such lunatic extremists consider those subjects "religious".  The result of listening to what in fact are the politics of these people has been, ironically, morally devastating to the generations that have since followed the ruling that banned the use of these words or courses involving discussions of that subject matter. Who now can speak about the importance of refining a personal honor code or the importance of studying ethics or learning how to navigate one's way through a moral crisis? 

The lack of instruction of such essential soul knowledge is now evident in that we rely upon law suits to fill in the absence of honor. We just assume the lack of honor in another person, considering it foolish to do business without a contract or a lawyer. Even if we know them, when it comes to business - well, you just can't be sure honor stretches into that area of a person's character. Right? I mean, come on. Why? Because the other person might just lack a sense of honor - you just can't be sure these days. Why take a chance?

<< Residents of Oarai wait patiently for food

Never mind refining our personal sense of honor. We would rather have our sights locked onto to the other person's lack of honor and that's that.  The truth is we have become an obsessively litigious society precisely because we are no longer an honorable one. Or, as Benjamin Franklin would say, we are people without virtue. Trusting another, doing business with a handshake, honoring one's word - why, that's just considered old world. Who keeps their word these days? Why, people don't even honor their vows. Most people hardly understand the difference between a vow and a promise, much less what it karmically means to "give their word".  (Never mind how and when this happened - I don't have time to get into that.)

We don't respect this entire spiritual wisdom to either demand it be taught in our schools - and NOT as a religious topic but as a HUMAN ESSENTIAL - or to insure that such sacred knowledge is passed within the home.  The handing down of a personal honor code is not a weekend course. It is taught through the example of an elder, a parent. Children inherently look for that instruction. They have a yearning to be schooled in honor because it requires something of them. It demands that the rise up to a certain standard of self-respect and from this standard, self-esteem awakens.  (No wonder people in western societies have to take crash courses in self-esteem. )

As I write this, memories of the disaster of Hurricane Katrina are flowing through my mind. Vividly I recall that the National Guard was called out immediately due to looting while streets were still soaked with water.  Rescue teams poured into the sea of confusion (no pun intended) while the chaos grew exponentially by the hour. Unlike Japan, panic, anger, and outrage soon followed. 

FEMA was more than disorganized and unprepared, as people were ushered into a stadium. But my purpose is not to recall those familiar details. Rather, details of how we responded under crisis versus how the Japanese are now responding strike me as worthy of note. How would we respond if a disaster of this magnitude happened here? Don't think that it can't. We have nuclear reactors sprinkled all over our nation. And if you know anything about Murphy's Law, you know that if something can go wrong, it will. 

Disasters like this happen for various reasons but without a doubt the leading reason is that we are told they are safe when they are not. In other words, the authorities do not want to want to act more responsibly because no one is forcing them to do otherwise. Bad press works wonders. The people of New Orleans were told that the levees would hold back the water. As a result the much needed funds to repair them were denied. Structural engineers warned authorities that the walls were in desperate need of repair but would we consider our politicians honorable individuals? Do we really believe they are even capable of telling the truth?  We now assume we are lied to in this country far more than we assume we are spoken to with respect, which is to say, told the truth.  We are treated with dishonor and we accept it as normal. How incredible is that?

Is it any wonder then that the Earth is so dishonored or nature or that endless policy decisions are made that lack any sense of honor or evidence of human dignity? 

Living an honorable life comes at a cost. You have to be willing to stand for something, for values that mean something to people other than yourself. Your values have to make a difference in the world. They have to count, especially in a crisis or when the outcome of your choices - your word - matters to the lives of others.

Honor is power and the power of an honorable person can change the world, just as the power of a dishonorable person can.  Dishonorable people could care less about whether safety standards are actually met in nuclear plants or coal mines or in air traffic control towers.  Their interest is the corporate bottom line - profits. Never mind if the "losses" are human beings.  But the power of honorable people committed to making a difference in the world actually have the power to make a difference.

Consider that one paragraph from the woman from Sendai, writing about how the people of Japan are sharing everything in this time of crisis. Her words are piercing the hearts of thousands because they are true. They make each of us want to share, to keep our doors open, to be gracious, generous - to be honorable down to our souls.  That's the power of one person. 

I look at the people of Japan with prayers in my heart and gratitude for the example of an extraordinary people who have entered into the beginning of their dark night. I know ours is coming. I pray we learn from their example.



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