Friday, March 18, 2011

Looking Fear In The Eyes

Apparently, for many people a henro's relationship with the island of Shikoku is hard to understand. Amidst the world's second worst nuclear disaster, why on earth would anyone decide to go to Japan, even if they go to an island 400 mi (650 km) away from the disaster area????? Are we all nuts? Bonkers? Out of our minds? Brainless? ... Stupid? Stupid idiots?

Part of the answer, i think, has to do with the way different people deal with uncertainty and fear — or, when they both occur in the same situation, the fear that comes from uncertainty.

On one end of the spectrum are those that have no tolerance for fear and as soon as it pokes its little head above ground they run in terror to whatever safety and certainty they can find. On the other end of the spectrum are those that thrive on fear and live lives bouncing from one adrenaline rush to another, from one adventure to the next, constantly incorporating higher and higher levels of risk in each adventure in order to keep the adrenaline flowing.

Smack dab in the middle of those two extremes lies the vast majority of the world's population; they may not like uncertainty, they certainly don't like fear, but they don't run for cover at the first sign of its appearance. They accept it, and deal with it as necessity requires. But even inside this middle group of people there are two distinct ways of looking at the situation.

One group, and it seems to be the larger group, looks at the situation and assumes the worst. If it can get worse, they assume it will. They focus on the worst case scenarios and for all intents and purposes ignore the better ones. In the name of "just being prepared," or "just looking at the facts," they make all of their decisions based on what could happen instead of what is actually happening at the moment — even if there is room for action later, as the situation continues to develop.

The other group is more comfortable with uncertainty and are willing to sit tight while they watch the situation evolve; always ensuring they have an escape route, leaving before that gets closed off, but willing to sit in uncertainty until that uncertainty becomes certain danger or until it goes away.

Henro fall in this later category, i think. For those that are "henro" and not just plain tourists, life is about looking for answers to questions that have no pat answers. Life is about walking that yellow-brick road even though it's frightening and considered by to be some dangerous — because they know that the curtain they need to look behind is at the other end of that road.

Over years of searching, uncertainty has become the accepted norm in their lives. It's not that it is actively sought, it's just understood that you can't look for the unknown (and maybe, unknowable) in the land of certainty, the land where everything is already known and accounted for. This is obvious to all.

So why go to Shikoku now? If you're honest, that's not the question; the question is, if you have already made plans and arrangements, why should you change your plans and cancel now? I would accept that if you haven't already made plans, now isn't the time to begin the process.

But, if you answer the question by canceling, they you are saying that you think Shikoku could, over the next few months, become too dangerous, and, whether you admit it or not, you are, therefore, saying that you believe that almost all of Japan will become too dangerous to live in, that from mid-Hokkaido (the northern island) all the way down through Tōkyō, Nagoya, Kyōto, Ōsaka, Kobe, and through to Hiroshima... all of this will become a radiological disaster area and too dangerous to live in. You are saying that you believe that two-thirds of the nation will soon be irradiated and unlivable. Is that really what you believe?

That's just plain nonsense. No one is saying that. Not the Japanese, not the US government, not the IAEA, no one.

Is the area around Fukushima dangerous? Absolutely. If a reactor explodes, or all of the spent fuel pools empty of water, will the danger area expand. Of course. Does it make sense to plan on traveling in the Tōhoku area in the next many years? Of course not.

But given the situation today, as uncertain as it is, does it make sense to write off areas of Japan that are hundreds of miles away from the disaster area? Areas where life continues today as it was the day before the earthquake, tsunami, and reactor troubles? In my opinion that makes no sense. None whatsoever.

The situation is uncertain, i grant that. But uncertainty does not always correlate with dangerous. Being uncertain doesn't have to equate to being afraid. Being very uncertain doesn't have to imply being fearful to the point of packing up and running.

Being uncertain simply means being aware that you are not certain and that things could change. I accept that — with the foreknowledge that no one in any government or any international agency is suggesting that all of Japan will likely become a radioactive waste site. Even the worst pictures being painted today say Tōkyō will not be affected to the point of endangering human life.

So why not go to Shikoku — another 250 mi (400 km) further southwest? It's much better to look fear in the eyes and say "you're welcome to come along if you feel you must, but you have to keep your mouth shut!" And then enjoy your walk and being a henro.

Will i go if worse than worst case scenarios play out. No. But given today's news i have yet to see any reasons to cancel my plans.


Anonymous said...

Fear is a signpost..a call to action, to do things differently. Anxiety (fear) holds its opposite mood in curiosity..both are moods or emotions we can find ourselves in when we are faced with the unknown, or uncertainty. One can leave you paralysed and blind to possibility, feeling half arsed secure clinging to that signpost...the other sees you holding the map, looking at the world as a place of possibilities, asking, "i wonder what i might discover if i go this way or that?"


Lao Bendan said...

"the other sees you holding the map, looking at the world as a place of possibilities"

And that's how i think life should be lived. Or, a little more forcefully, that's how life is lived if you want to say you truly 'lived' life, as opposed to having simply existed comfortably.

Martin J Frid said...

Very well written and a good lesson for others. Best wishes for your Shikoku trip!

(Found your blog searching for images of fuda-basami)

Unknown said...

Hi - I've enjoyed reading your blog, Lao. I am wondering when you plan on going on the Shikoku Pilgrimage? My son is on the pilgrimage as we speak (?), it's Day 14 for him. With all the reading about the pilgrimage online and books, I find it fascinating, in spite of the harshness and difficulties, especially in the beginning.