A New Twist on Altruism: Survivors of Japan’s 3/11
Underscoring Professor Jacqueline Chin’s caution against “flattening” real cultural boundaries, this commentary explores the notion of altruism as it unfolds within the relational synergy between cultural worldviews-values-beliefs and cultural behavior. The author does this within the context of Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake-tsunami calamity. Trauma, personal and collective, tests deeply held values. Degrees of altruism, temporary and sustained, embody these worldviews. Calamity imposes upon us the task of bridging the fault lines between Self and Other. Can we wear the other’s lens, to learn from rather than about the other? From conversations and interviews with survivors, family members of victims, and neighboring townspeople, the author shares lessons of altruism as selfless other-regard. These lessons break through the more common mythologies and media-fed misconceptions of public response to disaster as essentially panic-driven and self-centered. Instead, the author’s study unearths meanings of genuine community through embodied, face-to-face connectedness rather than through digital connectivity.
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