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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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.  And, I am going to be with my community, with my kindred.  I’m carrying with me learning from the web of The Berkana Institute as I explore questions of what is possible now that was not possible before with my many friends and colleagues.

Over the last two weeks much of my time has been focused on Japan.  Connecting and supporting people, being in many conversations via twitter, facebook, skype, e-mail and even telephone.  Some ideas have been coming into focus that I want to share.  These are written as I see them.  They are based on many conversations and they are still my formulation of what might be helpful.  They are part of my starting point as I go home to Japan.

I see four main domains of work:

Grief and Possibility in the Tohoku Region.  Much has been lost:  25,000 people dead or missing; 500,000 people without homes; businesses, schools  and infrastructure destroyed.

  • This grief must be hosted.  Spaces need to be created which support people in speaking of their grief and loss and disappointment.  A safe space of talking and of listening is needed now.
  • And Tohoku can be re-created, stronger and more resilient than it ever was before.  What is essential is that people in Tohoku are in charge of this re-creation – not government, not NGOs, not well intended forces from outside.  People in Tohoku must come together in new ways to direct this recreation.

A new effort called  Japan Dialog –  is beginning to address these needs and possibilities.

A Wide Field of Possibilities. People around Japan and around the world want to support the people in Tohoku.  Think of this as an eco-system with many parts.  Some have ideas and resources for different community engagement processes.  Others know how to work with the strengths and assets still present in the communities.  Some know of more energy efficient and durable building techniques.  Others know of better ways to grow food sustainably.  These ideas can either be another tsunami that washes over the area, or they can be a rich ecology of possibilities which can support in the rebuilding.  Work is needed which can call this eco-system together.

The work of  Instituto Elos and the Oasis Game from Brazil may provide important tools for working in this area as well as the ABCD approach (Asset Based Community Development).  I’ve assembled some resources for this approach on my Resources Page

A Bridge to the Future. A third domain of work is the work of connecting Tohoku with this wide field of possibilities.  Spaces and places are needed which support this connection between the people in Tohoku and these many possibilities.  This bridge must be wide, solid and flexible, supporting robust dialogue and design which supports people in creating new future possibilities.  The work that the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative at Fuji/Xerox has done to bring Future Centers into Japan will be a foundation for this bridge.


Bridge To Future

Tohoku Tomorrow

New Relationship To Energy. The earthquake came.  The tsunami came.  What stayed was the radiation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a new dialogue in Japan about how much energy is needed to live happy lives.  Japan might choose to learn how to live with less.  If that choice were made in Japan, it would be put into action immediately.  Japan might provide critical leadership for the rest of the world on this important issue.  This is a deep dialogue that needs to be hosted well in the coming months.  There are no easy answers – just very important questions.

Who might help?

In many ways Japan is a large country and a very small community.  Over the last year I have had the opportunity to work with many people and organizations who might be, I believe, the key players to work in these four domains.  I know there are many others as well.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from our work together.

And many, many more.  Japan is ripe for change.  Please visit some of my blogs here from November and December, 2010 to get a sense of the possibilities

And please come visit here from time to time.  I arrive in Japan on April 5th and will be there until the first of June.  I’ll be sharing stories and learning here from time to time.  Please also visit http://bit.ly/dMALkr for a story about Resilience in Japan from the latest Fieldnotes from ALIA — Authentic Leadership in Action.

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Generations Together

Since my arrival in Japan in January I’ve wanted to do an Intergenerational Dialogue here.  It finally happened last month.  On a beautiful Sunday in the middle of November, nearly 70 people gathered in a lovely building on the Tokyo University campus for the first intergenerational dialogue here.  The youngest was just a month old and spent most of the day in a impromptu care center organized in a room in the building.  The oldest was in his mid sixties.

Susan and Annie and I arrived as the intergenerational family with some experience from other parts of the world with these sorts of dialogues.  Bob Wing, freshly arrived in Japan, joined us as well. The Japanese design and hosting team had spent a couple of months planning the event.  Their conversations, themselves, were a rich exploration of the intricacies of generations in Japan.

There are some clear distinctions between the generations in Japan right now.  The dankai are Japan’s babyboomers.  Born after the war, they were the generation that turned Japan into a modern world power.  For many in Japan there’s a mandatory retirement at 60.  Most of the dankai have reached that age and have gone off into retirement with good savings and pensions from years of prosperity.  At the other end of the spectrum are those in their 20s and 30s.  They come of age since the legendary collapse of the Japanese economic bubble almost 20 years ago.  They know the old days are not coming back.  They’re scrappy, more entrepreneurial, willing to work in the existing system when it suits them — but not really invested in the existing order.  In the middle, and somewhat trapped, are the folks in their 40s and 50s who haven’t generally thought of another way to live and are in the middle of businesses and governments that are working less and less well.  Then, on top of this, toss in some interesting phenomena, like dokushin josei (bachelor women)an increasing number of women who are choosing to remain unmarried.  This maybe, in part, a way of beginning to reclaim the full participation in community women had until about 100 years ago when the Emperor Meiji declared that the key function of women was to bear children.

Back to the dialogue….

We met and talked all day.  Using circle and world cafe and open space, we talked with each other about the gifts and the needs of the different generations.  We talked about what might become more possible if we worked together in new ways.  There was a richness there.  A paying attention. One of the younger participants talked about how he spent 7 months bicycling through all 47 provinces of Japan — from Okinawa in the far south to Hokkaido in the far north.  He had held 40 World Cafes as he traveled with more than 1000 people.  When he finally returned to Tokyo, 200 people he had been with across Japan came to Tokyo to continue the dialogue with him.  Another

The day began with people finding their way into a circle of ages — from the youngest to the oldest, making our way around the circle until everyone was in their chronological place.  Then we broke into smaller groups, five or six people close to each other in age, to remember the gifts their generation brought to the whole.

The day continued in different configurations.  The members of the Japanese team hosted the World Cafe and Open Space — the first time for both two person teams.  They did beautiful and inspiring jobs — clear evidence of how smooth it can be to host dialogue in a purposeful field. People talked about what it might mean of the generations worked together differently.  In some ways, more important than the content of the conversations was the sense of connectedness.  There was a quiet intensity as people engaged each other.

Hours passed and soon we were harvesting the dialogues from open space.  The single comment of the day that stuck with me most was when one woman, in her 60s said with a look of wonder on her face:  “I never knew they wanted to be connected to me,” speaking of the younger people who had been in her session.

We had a closing circle and a couple of people talked about how they would go back into the “real world” the next day and how they would regret not being in this space.  In my closing comments, I challenged that definition of “real world” and suggested that what we had been creating that day was, in fact, the real world.

I left the day remembering something simple.  I’ve remembered it before, and forgotten.  Real communities are intergenerational.  Resilient communities are intergenerational.  If we are going to build communities that work again, we need to engage all the generations.  When we come together with respect, curiosity and friendship, all sorts of things become possible.

The time is now.

More photos at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/49166333@N07/sets/72157625292193067/

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