Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Pursuing Peace and Prosperity with Passion
SHIBUSAWA Ken / President, Japan Center for International Exchange

November 6, 2012
For most Japanese living today, "peace" is like the air we breathe. We take it for granted and seldom give it thought. Yet, once that air is taken from us, it becomes a matter of life and death. And so it is with peace, a state that seems so normal it goes largely unnoticed under ordinary circumstances.

However, unlike air, peace is not a natural phenomenon. Peace is a precious state mankind that must be created through a conscious effort. We describe war as a "man-made disaster," but in truth peace is a far more artificial state than war. This is a perspective I gained while seeking to renew my understanding about the Crusades in a study group to which I belong.

The lecturer spoke to us about Friedrich II, a most interesting Holy Roman Emperor who lived through a world in chaos. His mother was from Sicily, a melting pot of diverse cultures including Christianity and Islam, and we can presume that such an environment had an impact on Friedrich's upbringing. Although he was Holy Roman Emperor – guardian of the Christian faith in the western world, he may have had a certain understanding about Islamic culture. He negotiated with Sultan al-Kamil, the ruler of Jerusalem, and succeeded in regaining the holy city. Yet Friedrich II was never hailed as a hero who won a decade of peace without bloodshed through negotiation. He came under fire from both Christian and Islamic camps at the time.

But his episode reveals an important element for creating peace. It tells us that peace is impossible unless we transcend our "cognitive limit." Having been born and raised in a multicultural environment, Friedrich II was perhaps free from the cognitive limit that bound people who saw Christianity as the only norm in their lives. And human nature hasn't changed much over the past thousand years. Our decisions are basically shaped by the limit of our knowledge – in other words, by what we have seen and heard.

Our cognitive limit can trap us in a tendency of becoming convinced that a single aspect we know represents a "fact" about the whole, and to imagine the whole based on that piece of knowledge. For example, suppose you happen to pick one or two black balls out of a vase. This is likely to make you think that most of the balls contained in the vase are black, even if most of the balls were in fact actually white. The same thing happens when "negative" information reported on TV or in newspapers about a single aspect appears to be representative of the whole. We often look at the same mountain scenery and come away with completely different impressions depending on the vantage point, which may have limited the view to a certain slope. Human society is invariably made up of numerous members, and considering the number of viewpoints it is only natural to be looking at different scenery.

In addition to transcending the cognitive limit, "passion" is an essential element in creating peace. It is passion that moves us to action and enables us to create something out of nothing. Without passion, the wish to transcend our current cognitive limit wouldn't even cross our minds. Unfortunately, while passion is a natural phenomenon inherent in humans, it dissipates easily unless we are attentive. As a youngster you may have proudly proclaimed your goal of becoming a baseball player when you grow up. But as you become aware of your limitations in the course of your development and education, that passion fades away. Unless you find a new passion, you become rapidly encircled by the tightening limits of "reality."

Japan lost a war in the 20th century. Yet, upon defeat the Japanese people shared a feeling not of despair but a passion to rebuild. Small and mid-sized companies full of entrepreneurial spirit that went about rebuilding their own tracks from scratch eventually became leading companies in Japan as well as in the world. The word "salaried worker" symbolized the actual sense that our lives were getting better with each day. However, once we reached an age when it sufficed to simply stay the course, we began to use the expression "because I'm a salaried worker" to justify our incompetence and inertia.

In the 21st century, Japan is again experiencing defeat. Our tracks have become antiquated and worn out. The act of cultivating passion, transcending our inner cognitive limit and laying new tracks with our own hands may not come as a "natural phenomenon" to the Japanese. But it is the combined force of individuals who share this awareness that will open the way to world peace and Japan's prosperity.

Ken Shibusawa is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Japan Center for International Exchange.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渋澤 健 / 日本国際交流センター理事長

2012年 11月 6日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Pursuing Peace and Prosperity with Passion