Since Ordinary Earth is a blog about how sustainable living practices can support better mental and environmental health some people have asked me about Japan: what I think about nuclear power, the impact of environmental catastrophes on mental health, and the probable emergence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Japan. Yikes! Those are all the wrong questions at an inappropriate time. Instead, as the buddhist saying goes, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”
Only silence can fully respect and contain the enormity of what the Japanese people face. This is not a time for generalized scientific or emotional certainty, although it is a good time for experts to collect data and ask important questions. While it is natural for those of us in the U.S. to experience some fear, sadness, and the numbing weight of lives lost, this is also not a time to engage in narcissistic empathy – focusing on what the Japanese tragedy feels or seems like to us.
No one can predict the interactive result of all the factors that Japan faces – especially regarding the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. No one knows how to measure or assess the impact of a huge earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear crisis, and now, snow. As Japan comes to terms with a terrible crisis we have the humanistic responsibility to validate the Japanese people’s approach to their suffering. Support the efforts of those on the scene trying to cool exposed rods, rescue victims and recover bodies. Offer whatever help we can – as individuals or as a nation – when asked.
I will offer this. We all have relationships to landscapes that are like attachments to people. Some argue that all of our countries and the people who inhabit them are systemically interconnected. The exponential loss of both people and places in Japan does leave a gash in everyone’s hearts as long and hard as that which has torn the earth. Yet even in an integrated system, everyone has his or her own job to do. The most important thing any outsider can do right now is to not talk and to instead fully listen to and comprehend what has taken place in Japan so deeply that it sets in our bones. Then, share that comprehension by observing a moment of silence with friends, family and those you love. And wait. Stand there. Be ready to act if called upon in a manner commensurate with what you know.