Saturday, December 14, 2013

December 14

14th Annual Lantern Festival in JP. Lantern reads "eternal life."

[I didn't read the news all day on the 13th so while I was finishing up this post I was unaware that there had been yet another school shooting. When I found out hours later all I could think was, "Oh no, not again." The only fatality was the shooter (described by a classmate as "a little geeky but in a charming way,"), who took his own life at the age of 18. It seems he managed to injure just one student, so it could have been much worse, but that's not really much comfort. The actions of this one teenager will change people's lives forever. By today we'll be seeing the "Who was he?" articles and we'll play out the same drama we do after every school shooting, but by next month it will have fallen out of the news cycle and will be out of sight, out of mind until the next dramatic school shooting. I'm reminded of the Narcotics Anonymous quote: "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." Update: The student who was shot died in the hospital eight days later. Also, I found this excellent piece in The Guardian about how Australia has seen a significant drop in their gun deaths since enacting strict and sane gun laws.]


Preface


I started writing this last year, but got so bogged down with the research that by the time it was mostly finished the screen seemed to swim every time I looked at it and I wasn't sure there was any point in posting it. However, it was a lot of work to write (there were many sleepless nights involved) and I feel strongly about the contents so I kept it and decided to finish cleaning it up and post it this year.

In lieu of a memorial service, the families of Sandy Hook victims have asked for the anniversary to be marked with acts of kindness, which I think is a really good way to handle it. Anniversaries of tragic events can be very difficult and for some they only serve to perpetuate grief. By doing something positive we can look forward, not back. Last year I spent part of the 14th marking the 20th anniversary of a shooting at my college by taking photographs on the beautiful Episcopal Divinity School campus. It was a way of remembering the victims, one of whom had an interest in photography, and finding beauty on a day of sadness.

So today, I urge you to do something kind for someone you love or for or stranger and do something creative to honor the memories of those who've died from senseless violence.

*****

Friday, December 14, 2012, was a terrible day.
  • It was the 20th anniversary of a shooting at Bard College at Simon's Rock (then known as Simon's Rock College of Bard) where a young man with a semi-automatic rifle killed a teenager and an adult and left four people injured (3 teenagers and 1 adult). It was also...
  • the day that a young man in Newtown, Connecticut used a rifle and two handguns to take the lives of 20 children, 7 adults (including his mother), and himself and...
  • the day that a young man in Chenpeng Village, China used a kitchen knife to injure 23 children and one adult. 

On Saturday the 15th as I was getting ready to leave for the Tewassa Christmas concert, I received an email from one of our organizers that NHK (Japan's national public broadcasting network) had been planning to come up from New York City to cover our little concert, but had instead been diverted to cover the shooting in Connecticut. It struck me as odd until I realized that of course a tragedy this big means that the world's media descends (and apparently starts interviewing each other) and that it would probably make headlines in Japan because our lax gun laws are in such contrast to their strict gun laws. As an added note of interest, NHK reported that there were five Japanese students attending Sandy Hook Elementary, all of whom escaped physical harm.


Japan as a model?


In any conversation about gun control, at some point Japan is usually held up as a model of peace and sanity. Especially given the contrast between the number of lives lost in Connecticut and the fact that everyone in China survived, I was sure the comparison would be made again. (China has even stricter gun control than Japan.) Sure enough, the day of the shooting, Max Fisher at The Washington Post referenced an article he'd written for The Atlantic back in July titled, "A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths."

Sounds fantastic, right? However, the lack of guns doesn't mean a lack of violence. I immediately thought of the Osaka school massacre in 2001, in which a young man with a knife killed eight children and injured 13 children and two adults. And the Akihabara massacre in 2008 in which a young man used a truck and a knife to attack a crowd of people in Tokyo, killing seven and injuring 10. The oldest homegrown mass murder in Japan (we won't talk about WWII and what the US did) that I could find a reference to happened in 1938 when a young man in Tsuyama killed 30 people, and injured three using a "Browning shotgun, Japanese sword, and axe," then killed himself. It's true that Japan has far fewer incidents of mass public violence and that even when they happen, the death tolls tend to be lower than in the United States, but they're not violence-free.

Usually when Japan is held up as a model for gun control there's no discussion of culture - just citing of their great statistics and a recap of their laws. I was glad to see that Fisher's Atlantic piece discusses the role culture plays. He refers to Japan as "a generally peaceful country," which is a little ironic considering Japan's long and bloody history (samuraiJapanese war crimes). One thing he didn't tackle is how Japan's gun laws came to be in the first place. I have to assume that Japanese culture and ways of thinking played a role in their formation and in the populace's continued adherence to them.

In America we're all about the individual and individual rights. Modern American gun laws are what they are because of American culture and ways of thinking that date back to the days when this country was founded. Our right to bear arms is written into our Constitution in the Second Amendment, a right that many gun owners hold sacred. The results of our gun laws mean that: 
  • The US leads the world in gun ownership per capita. It's often cited that there is one gun for every United States citizen, although all of those guns are owned by just one third of the population. And that's just the legal guns.
  • We're in the top 12 for per capita firearm-related death. The only countries ahead of us are: Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Swaziland, Guatemala, Columbia, South Africa, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, and Mexico.
  • We also lead the world in school shootings.


Shock & knee-jerk reactions but no change


After every mass shooting in the US, some people stand up, wave red flags, and call for more gun control. In response, gun owners and the gun lobby say, "Hell no, you can't take our guns. We need them to protect ourselves!" Post-Newtown:


Relationship between citizens and police/government/military


One theory about why many Americans think we have to have guns is a mistrust of our government and the police. There's a belief that we can't allow the people in charge to be the only people with weapons. I gather that in America we have much more of a problem with mistrust of the police than they do in Japan. Police are particularly a problem for racial minorities who are often profiled. I remember one of my college professors telling a story in class about how she was pulled over by the LAPD for "driving while black." The "problem" was that she was an African American woman driving a very expensive car that clearly she'd stolen. Never mind that she's upper middle class and it was her damn car.

It seems there is racial profiling in Japan, but it likely isn't a common experience for Japanese citizens, the way it is for many American citizens. Japanese people seem to generally trust the police, probably in part due to their emphasis on community policing with kōban (small neighborhood police stations). Policemen are expected to help you with directions and to serve as a lost and found in addition to being first responders. I'm a little unclear on how most Japanese people feel about the government, especially in the aftermath of Fukushima. Anecdotally I've been hearing there's a lot of distrust around what the government (and TEPCO) are saying and doing, but I doubt anyone in Japan would think of taking up arms to protect themselves from government mismanagement of crises. Japan's Self-Defense Forces may have been the only government group to come out of the 3.11 disaster with a raised profile and more positive public feeling. They were widely praised for their incredible efforts in the aftermath of the triple disaster.


Mental health


The other thing people like to call for is better mental healthcare. The state of our access to mental healthcare is definitely poor, but would improving it stop the violence? After reading an article about an allegedly bipolar woman who pushed someone to their death in the NYC subway, I wondered if there was any link between mental illness and violence or if it's just something the media likes to report because it makes a great headline: "Crazy person attacks innocent bystander!" Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are frequently mentioned in news reports about the perpetrators of violent crime. It turns out that studies have shown that having one of these mental illnesses doesn't make you more violent. The real culprit is often substance abuse. [See Bipolar disorder does not increase risk of violent crime & Schizophrenia does not increase risk of violent crime.] 

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that people who commit violence might not benefit from better access to mental healthcare. A study published a few months ago suggests that several notorious mass shooters were suffering from intense paranoia. (Read about it here if you don't have free access to the paper - Elsevier wants $19.95 for it.)

Mental healthcare in Japan has lagged behind that of other developed nations. While the US started moving away from institutionalized mental health care decades ago, it has remained the primary treatment for the mentally ill in Japan. They are only beginning to take those steps to move to outpatient treatment. There is still significant stigma surrounding mental illness that results in people failing to seek treatment, which likely contributes to Japan's high suicide rate.  



Suicide


A significant portion of firearms-related deaths are suicides. A lot of people don't see taking your own life as violence, but it's violence turned inward. My friend's father (a much beloved physician) did this a few years ago. He was a longtime collector of guns. His suicide was a spur of the moment reaction to a crisis. I wish he hadn't had guns at his disposal. I'm sure if his patients knew the truth about how he died, they would too. It's possible he would have figured out a way to kill himself anyway (though unlikely), but the fact that he had a gun meant he had less than a 1% chance of survival. When people use other methods for a suicide attempt, sometimes they survive. (See Harvard School of Public Health: Means Matter Basics.) Last year I read that the few people who survive bridge jumps wish they hadn't jumped.

Suicide is an epidemic problem in Japan. David Kopel, author of the article, "Japanese Gun Control," argues that the flip side to tough gun control laws is a high suicide rate. He cites Japanese and Swiss statistics and Japanese researchers.
Of the many reasons suggested by researchers for the high Japanese suicide rate, one of the most startling is weapons control. Japanese scholars Mamon Iga and Kichinosuke Tatai argue that one reason Japan has a suicide problem is that people have little sympathy for suicide victims. Iga and Tatai suggest that the lack of sympathy (and hence the lack of social will to deal with a high suicide rate) is based the Japanese' feelings of insecurity and consequent lack of empathy. They trace the lack of empathy to a 'dread of power'. That dread is caused in part by the awareness that a person cannot count on others for help against violence or against authority. In addition, say Iga and Tatai, the dread of power stems from the people being forbidden to possess swords or firearms for self-defense.[122]
Stated another way, firearms prohibition is part of a culture that subordinates the individual to society. When the individual finds himself not fitting into social expectations, self-destruction may often seem appropriate, since in a conflict between the individual and society, society is, by definition, always right. It is interesting to note that the overall violent death rates (counting both murders and suicides) in many of the developed countries are approximately the same. America has a high murder rate, but a relatively low suicide rate. Japan and Switzerland have very low murder rates, but suicide rates twice the American level. Seymour Martin Lipset notes the high suicide rates in Japan and western European countries and speculates that 'psychopaths there turn it on themselves'.[123]

It's an interesting theory to consider, but Kopel's paper was written 20 years ago. More recent statistics show that Switzerland now has a slightly lower suicide rate than the US while Japan's suicide rate is twice that of Switzerland's.

The only area in which we're ahead of Japan on violence is that our suicide rate is statistically much lower, although it's still too high. Teen suicide in the US has been in the spotlight for the past few years due to a rash of LGBT suicides that the media decided to focus on, even though it wasn't a new phenomenon. Since kids pretty much live on social networking sites there's often a very sad digital trail of the abuse that led them to the point where they took their lives. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline @ 800-273-8255.

If you need help in Japanese, please contact JB Line @ 781-296-1800. 
Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously, even if you believe the other person is merely seeking attention. Most likely you are not a professional and not in a position to assess their state of mind. If you believe that someone is in imminent danger, 911 can and should be called. I only learned this last year. You don't have to bear the burden alone. Seek professional help even if you are asked not to.


The blame game


We also love to point fingers and say "not it!" The following things/people have been blamed for mass shootings:
  1. People. As in that old chestnut, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." (Never mind that if people didn't have guns, it would be more work for them to kill people.)
  2. Mental illness. We fear the mentally ill or even the idea of the mentally ill. The press often reports shooters as being mentally ill even if it's just speculation or rumor. After Newtown, many people seemed to be confusing Asperger's Syndrome with mental illness (never mind that it hasn't been proven the shooter even had an Asperger's diagnosis and even if he did, it's not a mental illness, it's a developmental disorder that does not make someone more likely to be violent).
  3. Parents. Not moral enough, not loving enough, not involved enough, should have known something was wrong with their child and gotten them help... the list of accusations goes on and on. Sometimes, love and attention aren't enough. Sometimes the parents aren't to blame. Very rarely do parents bear some of the responsibility.
  4. Violent video games. In another Washington Post piece, Max Fisher compares the US with other countries where video games are popular. Guess what? No link. 
  5. Hollywood. The NRA had the nerve to lay the blame at Hollywood's feet. Never mind that the NRA loves having guns in movies. Free advertising. Director Michael Moore points out that, "Kids in Japan watch the same violent movies." Hollywood alone isn't making anyone more violent.
  6. Gays. A favorite scapegoat for crazy right-wing pastors everywhere, LGBT people are also blamed for natural disasters, 9/11, Benghazi, and other mass shootings
  7. Atheists. God bless Newt Gingrich & Mike Huckabee. Terrifyingly, they are both former elected officials.
  8. God. 6 & 7 actually would not be on the list were it not for God, since what they're usually saying is that this is God's punishment on the good cisgender heterosexual Christians of America for allowing our country's values to be trampled by the godless queers. Conveniently, the student who shot up my college said God told him to do it (though he's since come to believe it wasn't God after all). (I find it interesting that when a shooter says God told them to do it, we think that's crazy, but when religious people say it's God's punishment, some people think it's a valid explanation.)
  9. Evil /Satan. By blaming the devil it's out of our hands.
  10. Jon Stewart. Seriously? Sadly, yes

Possible causes


So, who/what's actually responsible? Earlier this year I ran across something completely out of left field: "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead," by Kevin Drum that blames America's violent crime problem on leaded gasoline. After being called out by someone at MIT's Knight Science Journalism Program for seeming to suggest that leaded gasoline is the root cause of the "rise and fall of violent crime" in America, Drum posted a follow up. He also clarified why he didn't talk much about lead paint in a separate follow up.

It's hard to imagine that lead poisoning could be to blame for mass shootings, but it's interesting to ponder the role it might play in inner-city violence. Growing up I was taught that you always have a choice between right and wrong and that if you're a morally strong person, you choose the right path. If you happen to choose the wrong path it's because you're weak, perhaps due to stubborn free will or perhaps due to Satan whispering in your ear. I was taught that everyone is on an equal playing field (because everyone can come to love Jesus and therefore be saved by him), but what if that's not true? What if environmental factors such as lead put some at a disadvantage in figuring out which path to take? What if you have parents or older siblings who bring weapons into your life? What if you're bullied to the point of breaking?

Michael Moore wrote the most excellent piece I've seen thus far about what he thinks causes violence in America. He thinks it boils down to:
  1. Poverty
  2. Fear/Racism
  3. The "Me" Society
Using these criteria, let's examine Japan's comparative lack of mass violence:

1. Poverty

I was surprised to learn that the poverty rate in Japan is much higher than I'd thought. I remember my parents telling me back in the day that there were no homeless people in Japan. While this may have been the case in the 1970s (this paper says that homelessness first became noticeable in the 1980s), Japan's homeless population has been growing over the past three decades. Something Moore doesn't address is the degree of inequality we have in the US. Japan's wealth distribution is considered pretty equal.

2. Fear/Racism

Japan is a pretty homogenous society, but there is racism against people from other countries (usually non-whites, from what I've heard), hāfus (multi-ethnic Japanese), and ethnic minorities (Ainu, Okinawans). There's even discrimination against nikkeijin (people of Japanese descent from other countries) who return to the motherland. A few years ago the UN reported that they think racism in Japan is a big problem, mainly because the government doesn't acknowledge it and does nothing to combat it.

Although I haven't lived in Japan as an adult, my sense is that while racism in Japan may be a serious problem, it doesn't fuel violent conflict in the same way that it does in the US, although I have no statistics to back that up. Here in the US racial profiling has become so commonplace that it's now the law in Arizona.

3. The "Me" Society

Michael Moore on the US: "I think it's the every-man-for-himself ethos of this country that has put us in this mess and I believe it's been our undoing. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! You're not my problem! This is mine!"

Japanese society is much less individualistic than American society. In Japan, it's all about the collective. A lot of Japanese etiquette is based on being considerate towards others and God forbid you should fall out of line. I still remember my parents telling me about the Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." This is a society where people from Fukushima who've left their homes are facing discrimination because people elsewhere in Japan are upset that they've abandoned Fukushima (good Japanese people should stay there and face the danger and the future together) and also because some people believe they're bringing their contaminated belongings and selves to other parts of Japan.


Kaizen


As I was writing this, I remembered something I was reading about during the Toyota recalls that started in 2009. It's the Japanese philosophy of kaizen, which translates as "improvement". One thing we're not particularly good at in America is introspection. We tend to do a whole lot of finger-pointing and passing the buck instead of asking what we've done to contribute to a problem and how we as individuals can make it better.

I was planning to just present all the facts and leave it at that but after spending more than a month researching and writing this post from December 2012 to January 2013 I felt that wasn't enough. I would love to have better gun control and mental healthcare, but even with those things I think we would still have a problem with violence. I've been seeing reports for several years that knife crime is on the rise in the UK and Japan, which shows that even with strict gun control, people will find ways to be violent. The big question no one seems able to answer is, "Why is American society so violent?" Professor Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez of Bard College at Simon's Rock, contemplates this in a piece for Common Dreams.
The U.S. is the largest arms manufacturer and exporter in the world.  We have by far the largest military.  We are also by far the most heavily armed civilian population in the world, with some 300 million guns circulating among our population of about 300 million people. Americans, we need to acknowledge that collectively, as a nation, we have been responsible for hundreds, and probably thousands of deaths of children worldwide through the weapons we sell abroad.
There is not a conflict in the world today that has not been fueled by American weaponry.
Last week at JREX/Tewassa's screening of Hideki Ito's X Years Later they showed an extremely unnerving animated short by Isao Hashimoto titled "1945-1998" which showed nearly all of the nuclear detonations worldwide during that time period (according to this YouTube user, the animation is missing a few). The final US count: 1,032 (317 more than the next highest count - Russia at 715). We talk a good game about peace but as a nation, we've inflicted violence on so many other countries.

Year in and year out we have mass shooting after mass shooting. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Plus the ones you've never heard of (many are domestic violence) and the ones you forget the details of after it falls out of the news cycle. And then there are the shootings that didn't qualify as mass shootings like the one at my college (4 or more people need to be killed to qualify). Read op-eds after any shooting and they pretty much all say the same things and could have been written after any one. The same conservative crackpots come out blaming gays and Jon Stewart and meanwhile the gun manufacturers are raking it in. A month after Newtown, Bloomberg released a graph showing that in three years, firearms deaths will surpass traffic accident deaths.

I used to believe a lot of the propaganda and misinformation about the causes of mass shootings. I've spent a lot of time reading about them in an attempt to understand the student who shot up my college. I was glued to my computer for weeks after Columbine reading anything and everything I could. [I only recently learned that most of what the media reported after Columbine was hogwash. I recommend Dave Cullen's book Columbine. Probably the most thoroughly research thing ever written about that shooting and the people involved.]

Last month I came across this fascinating article by author Colin Woodward based on his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North American suggesting that each region can trace its' attitudes about violence and personal protection back to colonial times. The article didn't propose any solutions, but it's interesting to see the degree to which deeply-rooted violence may still affect legislation today. So often Japan looks to the US for solutions to problems. I think in this case, we should be looking to Japan. Modern Japan shows that it's possible to let go of a violent history, but doing so does mean the supposed sacrifice of individual rights. Personally, I don't see it as much of a sacrifice if not having the right to own a gun would mean that more people would live. But instead, we sacrifice the lives and bodies and psyches of thousands. More Americans die from firearms-related violence in the US every year than have died in the war in Afghanistan. Who needs terrorists? We're killing ourselves.

People in other countries with stricter gun control and fewer firearms deaths think we're completely daft. I agree. The average American doesn't need military-style assault weapons. I'm not even sure we need handguns or hunting rifles unless we're actually hunting our dinner or live in areas where we need protection from wild animals or need the ability to put down sick livestock. For the average American who gathers their food at McDonald's or Whole Foods, when is a gun useful in every day life? People say it's so we can protect ourselves but when do you actually get to use a gun to protect yourself? How often are we the victims of home invasions? How often do we have to pull a gun on a would-be rapist (who is likely our friend or partner)? It turns out that owning the gun only gives you the illusion of protection. In reality, it increases the odds that you'll be shot by more than 5.

It's far more likely that owning a gun means your kid will shoot their friend or sibling in the face or you or someone in your home will commit suicide, than it is that you'll be able to successfully protect yourself from a threat. The accidental deaths get me the most, especially when there are children involved. Those deaths are totally preventable. In Japan you have to lock your guns up. Period. The police even come by to make sure they're locked up properly. There's no excuse for people dying from accidental shootings. Yet would you believe the NRA opposes legally mandating safe storage of guns? Because here in the good ol' US of A we're all about individual rights, and we care more about parents' rights to not be legally required to store their gun(s) safely than we care about the rights of children to live.

I have no idea what it will take for change, but clearly the problem lies within our attitudes as individuals and as a society - not only about firearms but also about the sanctity of life, about freedom, about how we feel about our neighbors and our government. While the gun companies lobby and the politicians argue, 30 lives are lost to firearms violence every day. More than 5 times that number are injured every day. As a society we've failed everyone - victims and perpetrators alike. I would imagine that most people who commit violence are very angry and/or in a lot of pain (emotional or physical). Emotions like that don't develop in a vacuum. Many people who commit violence aren't getting the help they need (the student who shot up my college believes that if he'd been prevented or delayed from purchasing his gun, the shooting never would have happened). We've also failed ourselves since violence affects exponentially more people in the aftermath. Even when individuals and communities find ways to move forward, it can be difficult to truly move on. It creates ripples in communities and the effects can reverberate for decades afterwards and affect even those of us who weren't actually present for the violence. We all bear responsibility for violence, even if it's only because we look the other way or bury our heads in the sand or declare ourselves "not it."

Cobblestones at the Episcopal Divinity School - December 14, 2012

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
  -Ralph Waldo Emerson 
"Will there never be any more Newtowns? No. Sadly, there will always be Newtowns because of the creatures that we are. Some small proportion of us do this. But can we make it harder for them to do it? Yeah. And should we try? Yeah. We should try. Good God, look around. Look what we’re letting happen and look how we’re reacting to it. It’s like we’re crazy. We’re crazy as society, crazy. If we let this happen. Because we don’t have to."
  - Greg Gibson, father of Galen Gibson, who died at Simon's Rock on December 14, 1992 at the age of 18 [Source; Video]

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7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts! It's interesting to think about violence aimed inwards (depression, suicide) or outwards (anger, shootings, bombings, etc). Either way, it's an indication of a serious sickness that we are dealing with as individuals and as societies. The weapons just keep getting more dangerous and sophisticated, whether they're pharmaceutical/chemical or of the assault variety. We the bystanders get more and more bewildered and numbed. The whole scenario is soul-destroying. I think we need to start by rediscovering our connections to our own deepest selves ("souls") and our connections to each other and to the planet that we have also made very sick. Building self-love, building empathy for others (and not just human others)--this would be treating the real sickness, rather than just aiming bandaids at the symptoms (i.e., "gun control."). The deeper questions we should be asking are: why are so many so afraid, depressed and angry? What can we do as individuals and societies to change that reality for the better? It's not about legislation. It's about igniting a transformative strengthening our humanity. It's already underway--this deep rebellion against the violence we have all grown up with. Time to take it aboveground. Time to talk about it, turn vision to action. Just as you have done with publishing this blog post.

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    1. Hi Jenny - Thanks for your comment!

      That's interesting - I hadn't stopped to think about connection to the planet and others. Japanese culture has a longstanding connection and respect for nature (at least historically, perhaps not so much in high-tech Tokyo these days) and of course family ties are much more heavily emphasized, although I do think this can be a drawback at times - some people commit suicide in the misguided notion that it's what's best for their family - either to help out with family debt via life insurance or to stop bringing shame to the family due to something they're doing or not doing in life. I also think this is one of the reasons why Japan is lagging being other developed countries with regard to LGBT acceptance and rights. On the flip side, the family ties may cause people to think twice before lashing out at others because their actions will reflect on their entire family, not just themselves.

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    2. "why are so many so afraid, depressed and angry?"

      I guess that’s really the crux of the problem, isn’t it? I've often thought that although we live in a time when we're the most "connected" humanity has ever been with texting and social media at our fingertips, it seems like many of us are profoundly disconnected from real interaction with people. I don't know my neighbors, even the ones who I have social circle overlap with. Most of my relatives live thousands of miles away. I write this blog but I rarely hear from readers, much less know or meet them. Half the time when I contact my friends, they don't respond (I'm guilty of this too).

      I think part of the problem is that life is so demanding these days we fill our lives up with things that don’t really matter and then it becomes impossible to prioritize. I think we should be better about interacting more in the real world.

      I think we should be kinder to one another. For a long time I socialized primarily with sarcastic people and it wasn’t until I started socializing with Japanese people that I finally understood why I always felt uncomfortable with the sarcasm – because even if it’s a sign of affection (as I was told by some people), it’s not nourishing, at least not for me, perhaps because it’s the antithesis of how I was raised. Some people find the politeness of Japanese society a bit over the top, but I appreciate it. My Japanese friends thank me for doing little things, they remind me to take care of myself when I’m not feeling well, they tell me to be careful when I’m going home after dark, and best of all - they bring me presents! ☺ (This comes from the Japanese omiyage culture when you always bring gifts home from a trip – it translates roughly to “souvenir”, though some people bring gifts and snacks even if they haven’t been on a trip.) I had no idea that’s what’s been missing for my life for years until I finally reconnected with it.

      Beyond little expressions of caring, I think we need to be more attentive to when people are showing signs of depression or suicidal intent and we need to be more forthright in talking to them about getting help. I do sometimes hesitate to tell friends when I think they might need help since that's a very loaded conversation and I don't want to be seen as telling them how to run their lives, but you never know when having that conversation might save someone’s life.

      When I feared for the life of one of my friends and was struggling to decide if I should call the authorities, a social worker friend asked me, "How will you feel next week if she hurts herself and you didn't do anything? The answer was obvious. My friend didn't appreciate it, but I can sleep at night. Another friend told me that the fact that I took her seriously when she confessed suicidal thoughts to me helped her see that her situation was very serious. It snapped her out of the depressive slump she'd been in long enough so that once I got the ball rolling she was able to get it together to seek professional help. I had talked to a mutual friend at the time in an attempt to get her more support, but that friend rolled their eyes and told me it was nothing and she was just attention seeking. For a long time I had worried that I hadn't done enough for my friend so when she told me this years later it was a huge relief. It also strengthened my resolve to always go with my gut and to talk more frankly with friends who seem to be struggling with their mental health. People who seem to be chronically attention seeking may have a personality disorder but I tend to believe that even if that’s the case, if they’re still attention seeking, there’s a reason for that – they haven’t received appropriate/enough help yet. Getting treated for mental illness is not an easy process. It can be years of trial and error before the right combination of therapies can be found and even then it can require tweaking as a person’s life circumstances change.

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    3. I haven't had as many experiences dealing with angry people but with the few friends I've discussed it with it seems to have stemmed in some part from self-loathing that may or may not have started with being ostracized. Ostracism seems to lead to defensiveness (and fuels insecurity) which in turn manifests as anger. I used to think that angry people were just bad people but I’ve found that usually it’s just a mask and that mask is often hiding depression and/or anxiety. I'm sure it's not that way for everyone, but sometimes all it takes is for one person to see the good inside someone struggling for them to be able to turn it around. We should never discount unconditional love – it’s a powerful force. (Although we should always be safe – I think if angry people become violent with us, we have to protect ourselves first. They also have to want to get help. If they don’t want it, nothing we do will matter.)

      I think it's incumbent on us to help people get help if we see them struggling. I was so saddened to hear from someone recently that she saw the signs that someone she knew was going to commit suicide and she did nothing to try to stop her. I don’t know any of the details of what happened other than this woman committed suicide after a decades long battle with mental health issues. Perhaps she’s better off now since she’s no longer suffering, but I can’t help thinking it’s a shame that she never got the appropriate help.

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  2. It's not about legislation. It's about igniting a transformative strengthening of our humanity, that is.

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  3. Keiko, I found your insight very interesting in all aspects touched. I'm curious about your opinion on the treatment of Hāfus of Euro mix and those of Latino (Brazilian and Peruvian) and Afro mixes

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    1. Thanks, Carlo!

      I'm not sure if you mean the treatment of hāfus in Japan or South America. I've never encountered any hāfus from other countries so I don't know much about their issues aside from what I've learned from the few articles I've read. Some of my Hawaii cousins are hapa (what we call mixed race people in Hawaii), but it's completely accepted there.

      I think it's unfortunate that hāfus are mistreated in Japan, although even those who are 100% Japanese can run into prejudice if they are outside the majority. Hibakusha (survivors of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki nuclear bombings and US atom bomb tests in the Pacific), people from Fukushima (post 3.11), LGBT people, people with mental illness & families of those who commit suicide all face prejudice. Of course, unlike these groups, hāfus can't hide their identity which may make life harder for them.

      Japan has never been a culture that has celebrated difference and I'm not sure what it will take to change that. It may be too deeply embedded in Japanese culture to change in the near future, although I commend anyone who is trying to shift these attitudes. Many Japanese ex-pats I meet in the US have come here because they couldn't fit in with familial or societal expectations. Some of them are strong-willed, outspoken, career-minded women for whom there is no place in Japanese society.

      It might take a new generation for change to come to Japan. The Internet gives people in most countries unprecedented access to a wealth of information which can make it easier for minority groups to organize and to educate those outside their group. We're seeing a radical shift in attitudes towards LGBT people in the US as the younger generation are not hampered by the same kind of prejudice and misinformation that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were saddled with. I gather that hāfus in Japan have also been using the Internet to network and educate.

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