Questioning Culture

TIME recently ran an article on Fukushima, providing an update on the cleanup process and looking at how the tragedy continues to impact Japan.

The cultural bits intrigued me. For example:

“What must be ­admitted—­very ­painfully—is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mind-set that supported it can be found across Japan.”

“Inertia is still very strong.”

“This was a grave accident in which many mistakes were made, but no one has gone to jail, and no one wants to take responsibility. Everyone still wants to look the other way. Nothing has really changed.”

“People are scared of radioactivity, but they don’t want to make a fuss or draw attention to themselves.”


Culture is a big deal. Perhaps in its simplest form, you could define culture as the embedded thoughts and attitudes which lead to a set of repeated behaviors.

In Japan’s case, the general population’s longstanding beliefs have led to a culture unable to adequately confront itself.

You have a personal culture. It’s rooted in what you believe and expressed by what you do. Your family, workplace, church, and community all have cultures too. Culture can be a positive or negative thing, but usually it’s a mix of both.

One could argue that much of Japan’s culture is positive – there’s something to be said for keeping your nose to the grindstone, respecting authority, sticking to the program, etc.

But at some point, all self-aware individuals inevitably feel the need to step back and question long-standing beliefs. This is right and healthy and necessary. Doing so can lead to powerful change, or at the very least, a deeper commitment to pre-existing principles. Not doing so can lead to catastrophe.

Let’s get personal for a moment:

  • How do you believe you should behave? Why?
  • How do you believe your family should behave? Why?
  • How do you believe your church should behave? Why?
  • How do you believe your workplace should behave? Why?
  • How do you believe your community should behave? Why?

If you won’t question it, you won’t change it. That may be okay. Or not.


One thought on “Questioning Culture”

  1. I like everything Dave Mierau writes. Ok, I admit there may a degree of cultural bias in that. Thanks for your insights. Stepping back to observe and question may be where best learning occurs.


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