Greatest Hits 11 – Philosophical Lessons from Japan

I’m going to wrap up my series of philosophical blogs, with a lesson from Japan.

If you translate “shoganai” in a computer translation service, it often comes up as “there is no ginger,” which always amuses those of us who speak a little Japanese. Shoganai is more properly translated as “that’s life” or “can’t be helped” but it often goes deeper into the Japanese psyche. It is used as a way of shrugging off a bad situation of course, but it is also very often a way of shrugging off responsibility.

The Japanese have a culture often focused on perseverance. “Ganbatte” is another often heard term, something translated as “hang on” or “persevere,” but should be more accurately rendered in many cases as “tolerate long past what common sense dictates simply because pride demands it.” Ironically, “shoganai” is almost the same thing, in the sense of meaning “tolerate this because you should.”

I used to lecture in Japan on the word “shoganai” and how it was too often an excuse for inaction. I told my students that the only things they should use shoganai for would be if it rains on their picnic. They truly couldn’t help that. (Unfortunately, one aspect of the culture would be to “ganbatte” through the planned picnic anyway, but it you can’t help something, you just have to preserve through it…)

However I told them that they should never accept “shoganai” as a response to a situation which they could change. If they had a bad job, they should try to change it. If they didn’t like the Japanese political system, they should try to change it. If they weren’t happy in a relationship, they should try to change it, too. Shrugging it off as something that was just to be tolerated wasn’t acceptable. You persevere to a point, and maybe you persevere when you have absolutely no choice, but you don’t just accept things that you do have a chance to change.

I look back over this set of blogs and see that the message in all of them is the same. Jurassic Park: Things will go on with or without us—if we don’t consider carefully the choices we make, then we might not continue with them. Michael J. Fox: it’s not why me, but why not me? Biology class: the world will throw up obstacles, so you have to either change the world or change yourself in response. And Japan—learn what you have to accept and what you don’t.

I’m in DC now and tomorrow I will spend two days at the Hardwood Federation Fly-In. I’m going to do what I can to change the business environment just a little bit. I’ll tell you about it next week. And I hope next year that more of you will join me. Don’t shrug things off assuming you have no power. You only have no say if you don’t speak up.

On that thought, we’ll close with another great quote I’ve used before: “Laws are made by those who show up.” I can only hope that this month’s philosophical ramblings encourages some of you to show up in the future. Or am I just ganbatting along here?

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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