The Art Of Relating

with Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW, Therapist & Relationship Coach

Selflessness in the Wake of Tragedy

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I couldn’t help but be moved by the tragedy of the Japanese people several weeks ago, watching with great empathy, as they so bravely and valiantly dealt with their horrific plight. Even more moving than the unbelievable images we saw; was the grace, civility and order with which they operated under unimaginable pressures. That “everyman for himself” attitude, which was on full display by some individuals in the aftermath of Katrina and Haiti, was nowhere to be found. Even Anderson Cooper from CNN commented that he had never seen anything like it in the aftermath of such a great disaster, the order and civility having been awe inspiring. The generosity of spirit and sense of community which emanates from the Japanese culture is something to truly appreciate and give pause to notice.

I heard many people commenting on the notion that order and civility were perhaps two of the most prized aspects of Japanese culture. These are traits that work together to greatly enhance a sense of community, as well as provide the building blocks for such a strong foundation of unison. There was a genuine expression of “we’re all in this together” that radiated from those affected by the great earthquake and tsunami. There was no looting, anger at others in the long lines waiting for basic survival needs and everyone just sort of chipped in to try and help out. This all boils down to just how much we need each other in this world and the Japanese people provide a terrific illustration of the beauty of working as one big community.
There are just too many examples of how we have moved away from this in much of American life. No, of course I’m not saying there is no community here, rather that some of our habits and ways have seemed to lend itself to just the opposite. People no longer know their neighbors the way they used to. Children can’t always go out and play in their neighborhoods like they did when I was a kid, for fear someone will grab them. The news is full of stories of road rage and ugly politics; while TV shows are filled with real and scripted violence and the awful culmination in the recent shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Does it really have to be this way? No, it doesn’t have to be this way. We should take a good look at the example being set by the Japanese people, in this critical time for them, and aspire to be more alike.

People need to chill out! There are endless references to today’s stressful and hectic lives and its impact on both our health and our psyche. And, despite feeling as if there is nothing one can do to make it better, this just isn’t so. If you would like to take a serious stab at changing things for yourself, then check out my podcast with PBS host Wanda Urbanska, author of the book The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life. I guarantee that we can easily decrease our stress levels by 10 to 20 percent. Take a hard look at your scheduling habits. If you run your kids to scheduled events three to five nights of the week, then perhaps it is simply too much. Where has the quality time gone and where is everyone trying to run to? If you have overextended yourself financially and feel like you are treading water just to stay afloat, then consider downsizing anywhere you feel that you can. Give some necessary consideration to our home, cars or even a particular job if the stress to income level is just not really working for you. With so many people being so stressed out, it’s easy to see how one could snap and take up the every man for himself attitude in times of great turmoil. Let’s all work towards simplifying and de-stressing so perhaps our sense of community and putting others first will come shining back through on a grand scale. Here’s to the Japanese people……
Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Therapist and Relationship Coach. For a free consultation call 314-374-8396.

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