Unfear and Natural Disaster: Learning from Japan

As a native Californian (yes, I admit I’m a transplant to the midwest via New York, but in my bones I’m a California girl), I’m no stranger to earthquakes. Despite the constant jokes I herd growing up about “the big one” coming and California breaking off into the sea, I never experienced them as truly terrifying until I got older, and realized the incredible power of mother earth’s rumblings.

Today, I am finding it hard to pull myself away from the news of Japan, where my distant  in-laws are in Morioka hoping that the power will come back on, that their phone will continue to work sporadically, and that they will have access to food soon. We wonder how we can possibly help without an infrastructure to get them deliveries of what they need.

When we confront in ourselves the literally earth-changing impact of events like the Haiti, Chile, and Japanese earthquakes over the last couple of years, it’s hard to imagine that there truly are ways to prepare for something that can actually shift earth’s axis.

Japan had a leg up on this horrific disaster because the government had taken into account that first practice of UNFEAR: Accept the Real and Focus on the Future. Knowing that earthquakes can be common in their region (called the Ring of Fire, this area has more seizmic activity than anywhere else in the world), the Japanese government put in place strong building codes that saved the country from even greater devastation and loss of life than is happening right now.  These building codes are a premium in Tokyo, where high-rise complexes are advertised to buyers highlighting their seizmic preparedness. Japanese citizens all go through earthquake and tsunami drills, and Japan has a sophisticated tsunami warning system on the coast. This practical UNFEAR practice (Practicing Physical and Mental Discipline) has proved effective – with hundreds of the missing so far showing up in local shelters having followed their training.

In comparison, Haiti’s building codes were unenforced, leading to shoddy construction and dangerous conditions.

There are obvious learnings we can take away about disaster preparedness, about remembering to stock up on water and food and blankets and flashlights in case of emergency, that we can practice our fire drills and our tornado warning systems and earthquake preparedness. What concerns me more is that we need to stop and think from a personal perspective, that we need to face our fears and get out of denial. We are all vulnerable to the earth’s changes. We are all capable of contributing to a safer world for human beings.

What can you do today as a first step?

First things first, consider donating to the Red Cross, who’s work at ground zero was highlighted in Smarter, Faster, Better. Then, get to work! There is opportunity in every challenge, and the opportunity in the aftermath of horror is to learn from it. Here are some suggestions based on the four practices of UNFEAR:

  • Accept the Real: brainstorm the possible threats in your region. Are you susceptible to floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic activity?
  • Focus on the Future: design a preparedness strategy if you don’t already have one based on the specific threats outlined above.
  • Practice Physical and Mental Discipline: Conduct a disaster drill at your place of work, and at home.
  • Build Relationships and Community/ View Challenge as Opportunity: Use this time to talk to your employees about the importance of preparing for unforseen circumstances, and for practicing UNFEAR

Today’s shout out: This past week  posts on UNFEAR were featured at ASuccessfulWoman.com, one post specifically around preparing for crisis. Thanks SuccessfulWoman for your four-day feature!


About karlinsloan

Karlin Sloan has committed herself to finding out what makes great leaders tick, and to supporting leaders to be the change they wish to see in the world. As a corporate citizen she is an advocate for triple-bottom-line reporting, for creating sustainable ways of working and living, and for creating positive organizational communities that work together for the greater good. She is the author of the acclaimed business book Smarter, Faster, Better; Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership which has been translated into Thai and Russian, UNFEAR: Facing Change in an Era of Uncertainty, and co-author of the 2012 book Lemonade: The Leaders Guide to Resilience at Work. For more information see www.karlinsloan.com or www.theresilienceproject.net
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4 Responses to Unfear and Natural Disaster: Learning from Japan

  1. Flo Mauri says:

    The 4th practice in your book, Unfear, reminds me of the spirit of community that the Japanese people seem to innately engender. They are banding together for the common good of all. We can certainly learn from their example how to build community and have a preparedness mindset. I agree, this holds true for the corporate world, as well.

    • karlinsloan says:

      Thank you Flo – I am struck by the fact that in New York City the community feel after 9/11 was palpable. People were open and helping each other immediately, and we all knew we were sharing a backyard so to speak. In Japan, I am very moved by the people everywhere opening their homes to each other, welcoming so-called strangers into their lives who have lost everything. It is a reminder that there is hope for us and that humans have a wonderful capacity for caring for each other.

  2. karlinsloan says:

    Thanks Colleen – feel free to forward, I think this message is important!

  3. Colleen Boselli says:

    Brilliant, Karlin! Your strengths are shining through this message.

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