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Tested at the Roots2010.11.22

    An article appeared recently in The Economist in The Japan Syndrome series on The Future of Japan, contending that aging, the greying of Japan, was gradually sapping the Japanese economy of strength.


    While the article draws lessons from this for other societies heading down the same road, it is the numbers in the forecast which put things into perspective. The article says that the over-65 population has doubled in the last 20 years. At the same time, the working age population between 14~64 is expected to drop from its peak in 1995 of 87 million, to 52 million by 2050. Ten years ago, the ratio of employed persons supporting retired persons ten years ago was 4 workers to 1 retired, and in another ten years the ratio is expected to drop to 2 workers for every 1 retired. Imagine being asked to carry twice the load of almost anything, and think what might happen to your taxation and health care costs!


    Already surpassed by China, The Economist states some experts predict that by mid-century, Japan’s GDP could be smaller than that of Indonesia. While no one can predict the future accurately, declining demand among older persons, restructuring and difficulty of young people to find employment both point to belt-tightening, and an increase in the burden to bear. In the process of supporting a top-heavy population, it seems that Japan will be tested at the roots.


    I overheard a conversation the other day in which two people were talking about a foreign friend who was leaving Tokyo after 17 years for Shanghai, because “China is where the work is.” Perhaps so, but it is all to easy to blame your problems on outside circumstances, when in fact, storm clouds tend to follow certain people wherever they go.


    Such people have a tendency to get gloomy when the weather turns “bad”, even though there is nothing inherently bad about the weather, except that it may have rained on someone’s picnic. Not only with the weather, but also with the economy, the more narrowly you define good or growth or gain, the more likely you are to find yourself frustrated and unhappy with the results. Not that we should remain indifferent, but rather that we should not let our attitude be so easily controlled by outside circumstances, many of which may be outside of our control.


    Rain is something that nature does. While some complain about the rain, others appreciate it, or find something else to enjoy. While shifts in the economy are painful for some, others find new opportunities, or a chance to reevaluate what is important to them.


    Is there another way to look at the burden? Is there a way to ride out the storm, and perhaps even come out a better person for it? Of course there is, but it is a matter of mindset, temperament, and ultimately character. It is easy to be happy or optimistic when things are going well, but if your mood depends on the weather, then heaven help you when things go badly in life.


    Although some of this is embedded in proverbial wisdom, the problem with many proverbs is that they have become cliches. If someone is suffering a prolonged period of unemployment, it won’t help if you tell them that every cloud has a silver lining.


    The larger lesson is that in some measure the burden depends on your attitude, as does the solution.

    There is one Japanese proverb however that I like because it tells it like it is, and does not sermonize.


    “Life is a woven rope”

    (Jinsei wa azanaeru nawa no gotoshi)


    We experience life as a bittersweet intertwining of good and bad, of yin and yang, of both/and, not either/or. What sustains us through the cycles is our perspective, and the strength of the weave. It is the knowledge that crisis (危機 kiki) is a dangerous opportunity, always has been, and that the best we can do is live fully in the present. It is a different way of being tested at the roots.


    As Carly Simon said in her song Anticipation in 1972, “These are the good old days.”



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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