Sunday, May 8, 2011

Accepting the unacceptable

I was on David Bembenek’s radio show last week, and he asked a question that I admit, I couldn’t really answer intelligently, off-the-cuff. And, to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure, but I have gotten some more clues.

The question was, “[given the all encompassing nature of the fight or flight stress response], why was the response to the recent earthquake in Japan, contrasted with the response of hurricane Katrina so different?”

He was referring to all of the looting and crime that happened in the aftermath of Katrina compared with the seeming placidness of the Japanese in response to the earthquake.

How do stories like; the 13-year-old boy who had been home alone; after the earthquake struck, rode around the neighborhood on his bike, yelling out, ‘is everyone alright?!” jibe with the selfish nature of the reptilian brain?

I was literally brought to tears when I read about a businessman who had been waiting for the train in the cold and the rain, when some homeless people offered him their boxes, saying, “you’ll be warmer if you sit on these.”

While it is true that people will usually behave selfishly when they are thinking with their reptilian brain [or brain stem], some people are able to “upshift” to their more cerebral, or thinking brains a little better in times of trauma.

I think Japanese were more able to do this because of the way they are trained to handle difficulty. Earthquakes are fairly common in Japan, so they were a little more prepared than their American counterparts. They were not taken completely off guard. The closest thing I can liken it to would be to a diabetic, who suffers from seizures frequently. It certainly doesn’t make the seizures any less serious, or scary, but the diabetic’s response would be a lot more different than mine.

Some would say that the close family ties also add to their ability to handle disasters. They take care of each other, not out of obligation, but out of respect and loyalty.
“There’s a lot of orderliness in Japan,” Josh Smith, a Japanese musician with an oddly American name, explained. “Sometimes it can seem redundant and boring ... but at times like this, where there really is chaos there’s a feeling that, ‘well this is the situation, we just have to deal with it.’”

It’s not so much a matter of being free from the selfish effects of the reptilian brain, but learning how to upshift more quickly. I think we can all take a lesson from the Japanese on this.

c. 2011
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