Ordinary People

Pausing as I write the phrase, ordinary people….

What’s really true is that I am just blown away.  I’ve spent the last three days meeting people who are doing the work needed to stabilize and then re-create the Tohoku region of Japan that was ravaged by the triple disasters of March 11, 2011.

There are special names for these folks in Japan.  Some are called “U Turn:”  people raised in Tohoku who had moved away and have now returned.  Some are called “I Turn:” people who never had a connection with the region, but who have moved their lives to Tohoku.  Some are called volunteers:  people who have spent days, weeks and months living in the various volunteer centers doing whatever is needed.  And, of course, others are the people who have lived in Tohoku all their lives.  They arec sometimes are called victims or sufferers, but those terms turn them into applicants.  They are just people rebuilding their lives and their communities.

A year ago Suji Suzuki had no idea he would be living in Sendai.  He was happy in Tokyo, finding ways to use Appreciate Inquiry to change health systems in Spokane.  He did an I Turn and has now set up the Sanaburi Foundation to act as an intermediary foundation to create a bridge between people with resources outside Tohoku and those who need support within (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/c6c47e).  He came to the region back in April and just showed up for what needs to be done.  Gradually, as he worked alongside many other volunteers, he began to see this need for an intermediary function and he had some previous background doing foundation work so he stepped forward.  Each day he continues to find his way.  Brokering new partnerships and forming new relationships with others who are working to create a new Tohoku.

Watanabe-san worked for a firm in Tokyo that made log homes.  He did a U Turn to Tohoku after the disasters hit.  Now he is the volunteer coordinator for Minami-Sanriku-cho area where 7 communities with 2500 people were completely destroyed (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/41e63a).  He was born in Sendai and thinks that he will be in the region for a long time.  There was nothing in particular in his background which prepared him for the work he is doing now.  He just showed up and started to offer his talents. stepping forward to do what he could for people who needed his help.

I don’t have a picture of Chiba-san.  I was too blown away by his story to take one.  An older man with white hair.  So humble.  So unassuming.  He was born in the small village of Oosawa where all 188 homes were washed out to see.  He spent most of his life away, as a ship’s engineer and returned for retirement three years ago.  He’s been the servant leader of one temporary housing site where he’s managed to gather many member of the village together.  They’re organizing themselves to do all sorts of things because they already had relationship.  Although he waved his hands to reflect any praise, I have no doubt that most of what’s happened in the new Oosawa would have happened without him.

Or then there is Kawasaki-san from Shikoku. He showed up in Kesennuma in May to help.  He thinks he will be there for a long time, helping businesses and communities rebuild. In Rikuzentakada, I met with two met who had been friends for 35 years.  One is a former local politician and the other is the President of a large Driving School.  They are among the people who lived through the days of the disaster and who are now working together to build a new community which combines the strengths of traditional culture with new technologies.  (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/3114ad).

These and others I met are just a few of the ordinary heroes who are stepping forward because the times call them.  They each have a large portion of common sense, a lot of humility, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done and the courage to step into the unknown time and time again.

I feel honored to have met them and will look for ways to support their work.

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Global Summit of Future Centers

They came from all around the world.  Fifty from Japan, twenty from Israel, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, Italy, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan.  An amazing production across culture.  They came to the lovely space of Fuji-Xerox’s Knowledge Dynamics Initiative (KDI) which organized and hosted the summit with support from The Future Centers Association.  Low budget, lots of volunteer time, people made their way to Roppongi, Tokyo’s most international district, for three days.  KDI itself is pretty amazing and I’ve written other blogs about them.  They are working across Japan to help businesses use the Future Center concept which has been developing in Europe over the last ten year.  In many ways, Japan is developing Future Center 2.0 — spaces which are dynamic, flexible, inexpensive and in which the dialogue that leads to innovation can occur.

In many ways the Summit itself was an experiment.  How can we bring together a large group of people from all around the world and work from a place of curiosity, friendship and respect?  How can we do extensive work in small groups with only two trained translators?  How do we create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation and inquiry where everyone feels respected?  How do we balance western communication styles which are based on talking with Japanese styles which are based on listening?

It was a challenge.  Even though I helped to create the design and coached the many “hosting teams” from Japan, I had lots of reservations about the design.  It felt like too much talking.  On the first two days, it seemed like we were frequently caught in the one-way communication of presentations and my own design purity was offended.  But it came together with an incredible amount of energy by the end of our time.

It’s always challenging to design and host for people who design and host.  I have my own deep beliefs about the importance of peer learning and deep dialogue and discussion.  I’m pretty allergic to designs which put one person in the front of the room, or even those which put three people in the front of three groups.  AND, perhaps I was wrong.  In spite of my own reservations about the design, people were engaged.  Might they have been more engaged?  Perhaps.  But with the limited amount of translation available and the western need to talk in order to be present and the Japanese need to listen quietly, perhaps it was just right.  Collective design is always a challenge, especially with a design team that has never worked together before and comes from varied backgrounds.  But somehow, we made it work.

We brought movement in at various times each day to help people engage more than their heads.  One of the most moving was a 30 minute silent walk in downtown Tokyo at the beginning of rush hour.  Quietly people assembled and left the 15th floor, braved Tokyo traffic, headed into a sky walk system and eventually came to a large open courtyard.  There was one rule — no talking.  At first I thought we should have had a second rule — no cameras — but slowly the cameras disappeared into pockets and people stood and walked around the courtyard in silence.  When we returned to our meeting room — still in silence — there was a complete shift in the energy.  People felt more centered, deepened.  From that place of silence people worked in their “home groups” (a technique used to help people form deeper relations with a few people) to create a sculpture using things from their pockets of what they saw as possible now that had been invisible before.

Quiet, intense work to end two days of learning and exploring different possibilities.  On the third day we went to one of Japan’s ancient capitals – Kamakura.  Picture this.  Seventy people in a zen temple doing za-zen as a way to further deepen and enter a place of presence — Complete with whacks when requested from the walking zen priests.  Quieting.  Letting the feast of the first two days settle.  

Then, in the afternoon, we made our way to another unexpected place — a Noh Theater.  Noh has become less accessible in Japan during the modern era, so the actors at this one Noh Theatre have embarked on a new path.  They offer a two hour lecture with about 40 minutes of performance embedded to give people a sense of this powerful drama.  The theatre itself is a powerful BA.  Participants were invited to journey further into themselves.  After two hours of Noh, we began the closing of the Summit.  What had people learned, what would they carry forward, what would they do next.  Let’s be clear, Noh Theater’s are not designed for conversation.  It is awkward to turn around the converse with others in the rows behind.  Talking to the person in the next seat is problematic as well.  But the BA was so powerful, we wanted to stay there and work with the more  energy of the day.  The quiet focus was incredible.  People settled down and in.  Plans for individual action and collective support began to emerge.  In just two hours, the work of three days was pulled together with a number of heartfelt commitments for next steps.  Among other things, the folks from Israel have volunteered to host the next Global Summit!

It was an amazing three days.  I had my doubts.  And I think I was proved wrong.  What we did worked and there was an amazing feeling of connection and mutual support.  The people from Japan left feeling validated and supported in the work they have begun this year.  Everyone left with a renewed spirit.  Good work all the way around!

A few more pictures:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/49166333@N07/sets/72157625512214666

December 2, 2010

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