Yoshiko Takagi (Mainichi)
Encouraging victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake to try hard to overcome their hardship or cheer up could put pressure on them or even push them to breaking point, victims and experts say.
The March 11 quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis have reminded the public of the importance of bonds between people as well as discussions on how to deal with people in extreme conditions.
Rie Wachi, 55, a resident of Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai, lost her only son Katsunori, 31, to the disaster. He was engulfed by tsunami while leading residents to escape as a member of a local fire brigade.
Wachi says she could not feel any joy even when she was told by an elderly local resident that “I survived thanks to your son.” She says her clock of life has been “stalled” since the disasters. She still feels disturbed when she sees young people in the same generation as her son.
“People around me began to get on their feet saying, ‘I must not feel sad any longer,’ but I can’t follow such a trend,” she says.
When a friend she met after a long interval told her, “You look fine now,” she couldn’t say, “no I don’t,” and instead forced a smile.
Upon seeing victims who lost their family members to the disasters and try to be cheerful on television, Wachi cannot fully understand their feelings.
“TV appears to beautify and distort victims’ feelings. I guess they can’t help but cry at night. If the media creates a fixed image that residents of disaster areas are positively trying hard to overcome their challenges, it could place a heavy burden on some victims,” she says.
Wachi attends a gathering of women who lost their husbands or children to the disasters twice a month. She can show her true feelings only at those gatherings. “I have no intention of trying to make my feelings understood by everybody.”
Yoshiko Takagi, head of Sophia University’s Institute of Grief Care, has been involved in the activity of listening to what those who lost their family members to the quake and tsunami have to say in an effort to ease their grief.
She warns people around bereaved families not to excessively encourage them to get over the tragedy.
“All of these victims can’t necessarily bounce back from their grief. Differences among individuals have become obvious as a certain amount of time has passed since the disasters,” she says. “People around the bereaved families of disaster victims tend to hope that they will recover from their grief and excessively encourage them. We should be aware of this all the more because such major disasters have occurred.”
A 55-year-old woman living in Tokyo, who has a 15-year-old daughter suffering from Down syndrome, has begun to feel uncomfortable about people saying, “Overcome your handicap and try hard.” She says such encouragement is based on a negative image of handicaps.
The woman learned on the Internet that such encouragement is called “kirakira sabetsu” or “glittering discrimination.”
The term means that positive words of encouragement such as “don’t give up” or “have hope” could hurt people who hear such talk.
“My daughter gets tired several times more than other people by walking and talking. She’s trying hard while being afraid. I can’t easily tell my daughter to try hard,” the woman says.
Words of encouragement from a schoolteacher who looks after her daughter at school certainly give her courage. However, the woman says, “The same words someone utters as if they looked down on my daughter could mentally hurt her.”
Comedian Hawking Aoyama, whose arms and legs are paralyzed because of a disease called “arthrogryposis multiplex congenital,” says a helping hand should be lent to those who cannot overcome the disasters.
“Light tends to be shed on those who have overcome or are fighting to overcome disasters or handicaps. A helping hand should rather be lent to those who cannot rise up against such hardships, have lost enthusiasm for living and have been in despair,” Aoyama points out.
In his book titled, “Sabetsu o Shiyo!” (“Let’s discriminate!”) published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha, Publishers, Aoyama appeals for people to reform society by accepting their differences with others.
“The word “overcome” when used to refer to a handicap or sadness is used too easily. If people could do so, then I’d be walking on my own feet,” the comedian says. “No one has the right to blame people who cannot stand up even though they want to. There should be freedom to refuse to stand up. I want to tell such people, ‘You don’t have to stand up, at least for now.'” (By Koichi Tanno, Tokyo Lifestyle News Department)