October 16th, 2018

We are partners, not enemies

By Letter to the Editor on June 14, 2018.

This is my confession, not a sermon. I am writing what I’m struggling about.

It is difficult to love people who always oppose or question whatever I say. We call such people “Yana Yatsu” in Japanese. It means “disagreeable jerk.” I can be like that, too. It takes patience to stay friends with them. Kings used to chop their heads off. The Church burned them at the stake. It’s because challenge disturbs peace.

Familiarity is comfortable. Change is annoying. Nobody likes to be kicked out of a warm bed. It’s cold outside. Lately, however, we became more civilized. We realized that no matter how disagreeable, the interaction with opposing views inspires new ideas. In democracy, the adversary plays an important and positive role: it’s called “Loyal Opposition.” If you shut them up, you will stop moving forward. Debates between different ideas stimulates a creative mind. We must try to learn to live with and respect Yana Yatsu. It’s a challenge, but the world will be a better place if you listen to the opponents and compromise. That’s a constructive engagement, not defeat.

The most peaceful and comfortable period in Japan’s history was the nearly 300-year rule under the benevolent dictatorship of the Tokugawa Shogun Dynasty. It was the time the whole country was closed shut against outsiders, and new ideas censured. Nobody was allowed to have any contact with foreigners nor to leave the country. Christianity was prohibited, punishable by death unless a recant. Only the Samurai were allowed to carry a long sword and learn the art of fighting.

It was a golden era of arts and culture. Impressionist painters like Van Gogh and Monet were influenced by Japanese artists like Hoksai and Hiroshige. People knew where they stood in society. Ignorance was bliss. Japan was richly cultured but woefully backward. Advanced science and technology were non-existent. Four American steam engine iron battleships in Tokyo Bay in 1853 signalled the end of the comfortable world and the beginning of the modern Japan.

This is why I think the current polarization in public opinions is destructive. The people with different opinions are seen as enemies. Such attitude burns down the bridge of communication between different peoples and kills creativity. We are all different. That is what makes us human. We must see people who contradict you as partners, not enemies. Don’t call them names. Together we create a beautiful future.

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui


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