Sunday, August 21, 2011

$78 Million Dollars Returned: A Cultural Affair?

Wallets and safes totaling $78 Million dollars were found in the post rubble in Japan, and turned in by residents, according to The Huffington Post (August 18, 2011).

Apparently this is a stark contrast to what usually happens after disasters. “While looting often becomes an issue post-disaster, it’s been the exact opposite case in Japan,” writes the Post.

Many would assume this as an incredible feat of honor, or so you would think… Upon viewing reader’s comments for this article, it was surprising to see so many mixed views.

Some people thought the story was one sided and/or manipulative (in an attempt to promote a positive view of the country), another felt it an example of why cultures shouldn’t be mixed together (an irrelevant point in my books), others said Japan has people that steal just like any other part of the world and found it undermining to the U.S., and many were touched by the honesty, and felt it was reflective of how much the culture valued acts of honor.

“Integrity” and “ethical awareness” were some of the descriptions used in reference to this culture in the Post article. But are these kinds of acts only unique to culture?

In this instance, cultural values may have been the motivation for returning the money. Asian cultures are known for their sense of collectivism and conformity. The Japanese are quoted as saying, “The nail that stands out gets pounded down” (David G. Meyers, Social Psychology, 1997, p. 248).

In contrast, western society is known for living according to individualistic values, often doing what feels right as a unique person. Unfortunately, it’s not always seen as favorably as collective cultures, even though motivation that stems from personal values - outside of the expectations of others - can be just as honorable.

North Americans have contributed millions of dollars to relief funds, in support of natural disasters – in and outside of their own countries - to places such as Japan, New Orleans and others desperately in need of help.

People do things for different reasons – peer pressure, to project an image, or because it’s characteristic of their personality (i.e. to care and genuinely want to help, regardless of what others think).

Honor comes in many forms. And thankfully, we can arrive at the same goals regardless of our motivation – there are many venues to achieve what we want as a society.

Regardless of why Japan residents returned the money, it’s still a positive gesture, warranting appreciation. It’s a great example of compassion, and a good reminder about where we want to stand in the world as groups or individuals.

The Huffington Post, link: