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Are You More Like Japan or Haiti?

March 14, 2011

Are You More Like Japan or Haiti?

The devastation, heartbreak and ongoing tragedy in Japan are overwhelming. Our thoughts, prayers, and generosity go out to them, especially to the people so traumatized and lost though this incredibly powerful earthquake and the subsequent mammoth tsunami. If there was ever a country prepared for such a catastrophe, it was Japan. Yet even their determined effort and planning were overtaken by the size and force of these natural events. Even so, such foresight, protections, and contingency planning saved countless lives even while thousands perished.

Japan’s preparation and planning for national disasters are in stark contrast to Haiti’s.  Similar natural catastrophes struck both countries, however the way each nation prepared for such events, helped its citizens, and responded in the moment were very different. And they highlight the differences in their values and the impact of those values.

Japan was proactive. They have long had very strict building codes to prevent or minimize property damage, human injuries and causalities. The losses would be far, far greater without them. Haiti did not make such investments. Construction was shoddy and buildings collapsed with little or no resistance to the earthquake and tsunami. Far more lives were lost or crippled as a result. For Japan, citizen protection and loss prevention was and is a high priority. Haiti seemed to not consider this at all. It was not a practiced value.

Japan had contingency plans in place. Rapid response teams rushed to help citizens and manage the disaster as quickly and as much as possible. The magnitude of the catastrophe still overwhelmed them, yet without it the human and property losses would be much greater. Haiti seemed to have no such plans in place. There were few first responders and they seemed ill prepared. The heavy lifting came from the international community. The values of each government drove the decisions and outcomes in both places.  Japan’s values put human safety first. In Haiti, it seems other values took precedence. They each made value-based choices.

Japan’s policies and practices show a commitment to providing benefits and support for the many. Haiti’s history is one in which government policies have largely benefited the few – those with power and on the inside. These practices also reflect clear differences in values.

After the disaster struck, Japan’s leaders tirelessly communicated with the people and did all they could to adapt to the magnitude of the crisis. Haiti’s leaders almost disappeared from sight. Japan’s leaders were accountable and focused. Haiti’s leaders seemed far less so.

The values practiced by the leaders of both counties vividly illustrate the impact values can have in the moment of crisis and the aftermath. Emergency readiness, planning, competence, and resource deployment (or lack thereof) can have a huge impact – whether on saving lives, treating the injured, alleviating trauma, or minimizing damage. Japan’s emergency and medical teams are  working around the clock, responding to innumerable ripple effects and the needs of its people, making a horrific situation as tolerable as possible. Imagine if Japan was as poorly prepared as Haiti.

You might say that this is the difference between a relatively wealthy country like Japan and an impoverished one like Haiti. I would submit that those differences also reflect the differences in values between the leaders and culture of both island nations.

As daunting as the massive challenge is facing Japan, including the risk of nuclear meltdowns, I am willing to bet that huge numbers of people will not be living tents, make-shift shelters, or unsanitary conditions one year after the earthquake and tsunami as they still are in Haiti. Think about how each country demonstrates its compassion and care for the citizens who have suffered and the impact that has. Japan has swung into action and will sustain that effort. It will rebound far faster and much more effectively than Haiti from a similar, if not greater, natural disaster – reflecting the values of its culture.

You may want to reflect on your own values. Bringing all this down to a more personal level, are you more like Japan or Haiti?

How do your values show up in your life? How do they affect its course and the choices you make?  How do they affect how you respond to and rebound from personal earthquakes and tsunamis?

Steve Weitzenkorn

Visit our new website, see the video: Take the FREE Guiding Values Exercise.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. JEPS permalink
    March 15, 2011 2:10 pm

    A very interesting article , but maybe a few things to note ,
    Haiti has very little wealth and was hit by a major earth quake in 2010. Japan at the time was the 2nd biggest nation on the world stage and one of the richest countries in the world.

    Japan has every experience, knowledge and insight into dealing with earth quakes on such a grand scale… but what did they offer in support to poor and desperate Haiti?-

    1 million dollars , upped to 5 million after some arm twisting by the US , but no medical or on the ground expertise- it begs the question why out of sight , out of mind , not their problem. Today 15 , billion has been wiped off the value of Japan shares …

    Acts of God happen for many reasons to show the world mankind is interdependent , the weak should be helped by the strong.

    Japan shut their eyes to the Haiti earthquake and offered very little in terms of an worthwhile and meaningfulsupport – God has spoken and his wrath has been brought down on Japan for not helping it’s neighbour in great need.

    Not 1 but 3 hits of destruction- earthquake , tsunami , nuclear meltdown= God has spoken!!

    • March 15, 2011 2:36 pm

      Thank you for your insights and adding to the conversation. You’ve made some great points.

  2. JEPS permalink
    March 16, 2011 7:32 am

    Please watch on you tube ‘ Haiti stands with Japan’ – a very good illustration of my note above…

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