History is on Japan's side

History is on Japan's side

History, and current research on human resiliency, suggest that he is right. In fact, history and research suggest that Japan will emerge stronger, not weaker, in the years to come.

In recent years, research into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has led to a new term and a new area of research: ‘posttraumatic growth’ (PTG). Coined by Dr Richard Tedeschi, University of North Carolina, Charlotte. PTG research suggests that an encounter with severe trauma can actually lead to highly positive changes in individuals.

It can also increase their resiliency to subsequent adversity. Today, some researchers say that posttraumatic growth is far more common than long-term posttraumatic stress disorder. The norm is to adapt and grow following trauma. That phenomenon is, not coincidentally, Japan’s heritage and cultural norm.

Growing stronger

Research with former prisoners of war who spent up to eight years in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison confirms two things: Most of them experienced positive growth from the experience (and a PTSD rate of only 4 per cent), and those who experienced the worst trauma reported the most personal growth in the decades since their release.
While none of them expressed a desire to go through the experience again, a number have said they are stronger and better men because of it.

Japan’s remarkably well educated, highly productive and uniformly disciplined work force also will have reconstruction projects, recovery and clean-up to unite them.

Not that long ago, as their cameras showed us the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, television reporters earnestly declared that New Orleans might never return to its previous glory as The Big Easy. A few even declared the city a lost cause.

Today, those predictions seem inane. New Orleans’s centuries of hard living was matched by its hard life. Writing off a city with that life experience never seemed a good bet to those who study human resiliency.

After the staggering loss of life and property in World War II, Japan rebuilt itself into one of the world’s great intellectual, economic and industrial powers.

Without diminishing for a moment the magnitude of the current crisis, or the human tragedies, Japan’s prime minister exhibited one of the hallmarks of leadership in crisis by reminding his countrymen of their heritage.

In invoking Japan’s history of resiliency and determination, Kan tapped into one of the most powerful factors in human resiliency: knowing you have the strength, knowledge and stamina it takes to make it through, because you have made it through other adversity in your life.

In these early stages, it appears that Japan’s cultural norms are providing some of the effective interventions needed following a disaster of this scale.

In 2007, an international panel of experts developed a list of five conditions that need to be created in the early stages of mass trauma: 1. a sense of safety; 2. calm, 3. a sense of self and community efficacy; 4. connectedness; and 5. hope. Watching the videos of Japanese citizens in the aftermath of their calamity, one can observe many of these interventions already at work.

The citizens of Japan have a benchmark for their conduct in the years to come. Ironically, the aging Japanese population may become a strength in the current crisis; the older citizens have the most experience in facing the challenges. Japan should emerge in a few years as a stronger and even more competitive world power.