November 9, 2010


From Our Hands, We Pass Nature's Torch: Junko Edahiro's Message to the World (Part Two)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.98 (October 2010)

In last month's issue we printed the first half of a speech by Junko Edahiro's speech, titled "From Our Hands, We Pass Nature's Torch," which also happened to be the theme of the sixty-ninth international convention of Y's Men International, held in Yokohama from August 5 to 8, 2010. This month, we carry the second half of her speech.


The second point which I believe is important to pass our nature's torch is to try to see a variety of relationships. Any type of situation or problem is made up of a variety of relationships, including those we can see and those we cannot see. We can think about those relationships that we can imagine or see ourselves, but it's also important to think about those relationships that we have not noticed.

As an example, let me tell you a true story. On the island of Amami Oshima in southern Japan lives the Amami Rabbit, which is recognized as a natural monument. On this island there also lives a venomous snake known as the Okinawa habu, which sometimes bites and injures people. In an effort to eradicate the snake, people introduced the mongoose, which originally did not live on this island. The mongoose is known to fight snakes, and some of you may have seen television programs about mongooses fighting habu snakes in a cage.

People were thinking that if they brought the mongoose to the island and let it deal with the snakes, there would be peace on the island. But something unforeseen happened. For sure, if you put a mongoose into a cage it will fight for its life against a habu snake. But the mongooses released on the island could find easier prey without fighting the dangerous habu snake. So the mongooses gradually ate the Amami Rabbit as prey. As a result, the habu snake numbers did not decline, the mongoose numbers increased, and the natural monument Amami Rabbit was pushed to the brink of extinction. This is how the situation has turned out.

The point is, when we do something, we must not forget that there could be a variety of other unintended consequences, so we need approaches that identify the relationships in the overall structure -- this is called "systems thinking." It is important for everyone.

Identifying the relationships also means extending the time scale we're considering. We hear that the Iroquois nation in North America had a saying that "In everything, you must consider the impact on the seventh generation." Today, timeframes are very short, and we tend to think only about what is around us and about the current times. It's important to extend the time frame and think about various relationships, and by doing these actions, to think even about things beyond what we imagined, and about their impacts.

The third important point is to create and to change systems. If we try to tackle global warming only in a piecemeal manner by awareness-raising, we will not succeed. There is no guarantee that greater awareness alone will lead to action.

Whether or not people are aware, it's important to create structures that will lead to the transformation of human behavior, and to change those structures that make people continue doing undesirable behavior. This is because if you do so, it's possible to effectively shift the behavior of a large number of people in the desirable direction without criticizing others or oneself.

I once heard the story of a newlywed American couple. The new husband was watching his bride preparing roast beef for dinner, cutting off the ends before putting it into the oven. The husband asked, "Why are you cutting the ends off before putting it into the oven?" to which the bride replied, "Good question. My mother always did it that way." When the young couple visited the bride's family one day, her mother prepared roast beef for dinner. They watched as she cut both ends of the roast beef before putting it into the oven. The young bride asked her mother, "Why do you cut both ends?" To which her mother replied, "Well, that's a good question. My mother always did it that way."

So the young husband went to the mother's mother. And he asked, "Why do you cut off both ends when you're making roast beef?" Your daughter and granddaughter both say that you always do it that way." To which the grandmother grinned and replied, "That's because our oven in those days was too small, so I couldn't put the roast beef in unless I cut off the ends. But ovens these days are bigger, so I don't cut the ends off any more."

There are many examples where we as individuals and as a society are continuing to do things just as they were done in the past -- thinking that things were always that way, and will always be that way -- even though the objectives or situation has changed. We need to become aware of those situations, and change the structures to lead people to behave in new and desired ways. This is important.

The fourth important point is to take care of those things that are truly important. I think it is well understood that population growth and economic growth cause a variety of environmental problems. Even so, our governments frantically tell us that the GDP must grow at a certain percent.

Are we living for GDP or for economic growth? No! What is really important is not GDP or economic growth. Isn't the important thing really everyone's happiness -- including that of ourselves, other people, and future generations -- It's exactly because we believed that economic growth -- as measured by GDP -- would lead to everyone's happiness that we valued economic growth and used GDP as an indicator. Economic growth and GDP should be nothing but the means to an end, but at some point, they became the objectives.

As you know, GDP is counted when money moves, whether it be goods or services. There is no connection with whether or not it leads to happiness. More crime and environmental destruction increase GDP. Why? Because crime means that more time is used by the police, and the more chemicals and equipment used to clean the environment means more economic activity is counted. But no matter how much those things increase and GDP increases, we will not become happier.

Today people are talking about a GPI, or Genuine Progress Indicator, and a dozen or more countries are using it as a measure. It is calculated by subtracting from GDP those things that do not lead to happiness -- such as crime, environmental destruction, and family breakdown -- and converting into a measure of economic value those things that lead to happiness but are not counted by GDP -- such as homemaking and volunteering.

Look at graphs for the U.S. or for Japan, and you will see that even though the GDP per capita is gradually increasing, after a certain point the GPI has been flat and in some cases is declining. In other words, even as the GDP increases, our level of happiness is not changing, or is even declining.

In this context, Bhutan, a developing country in Asia, has created the interesting concept of GNH. A few decades ago the previous king began saying that GNH is more important than GNP. Bhutan started measuring national progress using GNH, instead of GNP. GNH stands for Gross National Happiness. Bhutan is attempting to measure people's happiness using this indicator, and to measure whether or not it is making progress as a country.

I believe that if we look back at the history of each country, including Japan, we can find a lot of wisdom to help us take care of the things that are truly important. For example, during Japan's Edo Period, because it was a closed country to the world, it was self-sufficient in everything. Energy and food and so on did not come in from overseas. During the 260 years of the Edo Period, Japan enjoyed a time of peace, without war, and a wonderful blossoming of culture.

With the supremacy of the idea of economic growth, we have forgotten these ways of living. But to take care of those things that are truly important, I believe we must recover and restore the sustainable ways of living that can be found within each culture.

And finally, the fifth important point is to communicate with others. We are backcasting to create a vision of the way things should be. We are noticing and thinking about relationships between things -- even those we cannot see -- and creating new relationships. We are creating and changing systems instead of just relying on our willpower. We are caring for those things that are truly important. Next, those of us who have first become aware of these things must always talk to others about them.

How will our messages get across if we communicate in a certain way? It's important to try out different ways of communicating effectively, and thereby to build our capacity to communicate.

For example, when you want to talk about environmental issues, it's a big challenge to communicate with a person who is not interested in environmental issues. I too have run into that challenge. If I write a book about environmental problems, the only people to read it will be those who are already concerned about the environment. So what's the best way to communicate to people who have no interest in the environment?

A book I wrote in Japanese after thinking about that challenge is called, "Anything Is Possible If You Wake Up at 2 A.M." I wrote this book about my own experience of personal development, including the story of how I studied English and become a simultaneous interpreter in two years, what I did to create time for myself with the odd lifestyle of waking every day up at 2 a.m., and so on. This book gets placed on the shelves for business and personal development books, so people with no interest in environmental issues also pick it up to read.

But environmental issues appear only on two pages in the book, where I describe one of the activities I enjoy doing. The book also provides contact information and mentions excerpts of interesting parts of a free e-mail newsletter that I publish.

Actually, the book "Anything Is Possible If You Wake Up at 2 A.M." has sold 150,000 copies, and several thousand of the readers subscribe to my environmental e-mail newsletter. I suppose they figured it was interesting enough to give it a try.

So I think that just like this book, sometimes it's important to hide your message and introduce the topic from a different angle, rather than always putting your message right in front. I call this the Trojan Horse Strategy. Today, as I experiment with my communications approaches, I am acting with the desire to have as many people as possible think with me about what is important. Every extra person or two counts.

From me who has been engaged in this kind of communication activity, I would like to end my talk now by conveying to everyone here one last thing that is the most important.

Actions mean more than words. No matter what words you speak, if even just one or two of your actions change, the message conveyed to the people around you will be much greater.

So I would like to conclude my speech with the final thought that actions speak louder than words.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Written by Junko Edahiro