The So-called Unassailable Concept of Peace
Speaking of “unassailable concepts”, there are innumerable words that we use without real understanding of what they mean in actuality. “Spirit” is one such word, but there are even more commonplace words like “happiness”, “freedom”, “love”, ”personality”, “mind”, “heart”, etc. that could easily present the basis for philosophical debate for generations without arriving at any objective definition to satisfy all. As one from the West, I can easily add “peace” to that long and ever growing list. But in Japan, there does not appear to be much disagreement as to what peace means.
Good or Bad?
As an English teacher, one question I would often present to my Japanese students for conversational purposes is which of the following two ideas they most closely identified with:
‘Nothing bad is something good’
‘Nothing good is something bad’
I had initially posed that question expecting it to be something of a conundrum to be discussed at length, in earnest and with increasing discernment. But in Japan, more often than not, it has been astonishingly easy for people to express a preference for the former over the latter. That is to say (to this Western mind) that, in contrast to Western society, many if not most Japanese people would sooner strive to keep things as good as they are than fight for the hope that they might be better.
What Peace is Not
Now, if you have come from such a background as mine, you may be mounting an argument in your mind as to just how detrimental such thinking as ‘nothing bad is something good’ can be to progress. Especially in those instances when things are not quite so good for some as for others. But hear me out! Essentially, the spirit of Japan informs us that peace- which is not to be confused with freedom, happiness or progress- is simple satisfaction with the way things are plus a devotion of everyone to keeping it that way for everyone. But even though that should be the very definition of conservatism, it tends to play out in some of the most liberal ways in Japan. For instance, national health insurance, equal opportunity and closing the wealth gap have traditionally been non-issues in Japan… Everyone seems to agree about it.
East and West… Mothers and Fathers
It may be politically incorrect to say so, but it is a mother’s nature and prerogative to micro-manage children… To make sure from the very beginning that every challenge of a child’s life is ostensibly taken care of in every way so the child may be and remain content and unchanged… As if that child is a part of her… Because the child is (or at least once was), no doubt. The love of a father, by comparison, may seem to be a bit more detached, calling for the child, perforce, to change and to grow to become more like himself by learning to solve his own problems and struggle with the rigors of adult life. I liken Japanese conservatism unto the love of a mother, in contrast to the Western conservative who might be closer to that of a father. As such, it appears to me to be inherent within the Japanese psyche to assume responsibility for others and to conversely confer to others responsibility for oneself. And in this way, avoidance of conflict becomes a premium in even the most seemingly unconscionable of circumstances. For better or worse, I believe this outlook to be most conducive to a species of peace that can be rightly appreciated in this day and age of otherwise rampant self-assertion and supposed independence.
Evidence of this can be witnessed in just about every consciously engaged exchange between Japanese people from the daily commute to the office to behavior in that office to the shopping center to recreational venues and so on. That is not to say, of course, that every individual Japanese person conforms to this ideal of social responsibility in keeping the peace everywhere and all the time. Only that it is in fact an ideal and one that is as assiduously pursued by Japanese people as a collective and in general as Americans may be said to pursue happiness or freedom.
By Justin T. Reed