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Title: Reflections on the Great Quake
Date: 14-Mar-2011
Category: Opinion Essays
Source/Author: Caux Round Table (CRT)
Description: We are all shocked by the devastation caused by Friday’s massive 8.9 earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan, but very relieved that all our Japanese CRT colleagues and friends are fine after some very scary moments in their homes and offices. When nature plays its trump cards like this quake and its tsunami offspring, we are reminded that we are not masters of the universe. Events like this – events driven by forces we barely understand – bring us back to reality and a humility regarding our place in the cosmos. We are here on sufferance really.

We are all shocked by the devastation caused by Friday’s massive 8.9 earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan, but very relieved that all our Japanese CRT colleagues and friends are fine after some very scary moments in their homes and offices.

When nature plays its trump cards like this quake and its tsunami offspring, we are reminded that we are not masters of the universe. Events like this – events driven by forces we barely understand – bring us back to reality and a humility regarding our place in the cosmos. We are here on sufferance really.

Science is marvelous; free and fair markets can be bountiful; governments can be gifted stewards; and corporations can be an essential and vital engine for global prosperity. And vice-versa: scientific thinking can let us down through hubris; markets can be oppressive, selfish and dysfunctional; governments can be cruel parasites living off decent people; and corporations can ignore the common good and the needs of the broader community.

What stands out to us in our initial appreciation of this triumph of fate over human ingenuity is the value implicit in Japanese diligence and setting of high standards in building construction. Their example should shake us out of our “if it’s not broke, why fix it?” complacency about standards of performance and stewardship that pervades too much of corporate and regulatory life.

In the largest quake ever recorded in Japan, Tokyo’s subways did not collapse; bullet trains did not shoot off their tracks; tall buildings swayed for 5 minutes but none fell.

Corporate and regulatory commitment to excellence in construction in Japan is to be praised for saving lives and property.

Of course, the engineering and design costs were higher in building to the higher standards, as were the resulting construction costs. And yet, in this moment of high crisis and great risk, it has been the higher standards that have delivered the higher quality results that have saved so many lives.

To us, this validates the CRT’s vision, principles and efforts: seeking to do your best with a view to all the possibilities is how to conduct a business and to live well. It is “self-interest considered upon the whole” – the ethical force that builds lasting value. This reflects in large part our acknowledgement of the Japanese principle and value of Kyosei, whereby no one can prosper without being in thoughtful mutuality with others and without consideration of what is needed to sustain a thriving environment.

Living on the cheap - living to exploit the moment - will not protect companies or people against the great quakes that seem to come more frequently than not, or from the consequences of climate change, or from untamed excesses, as we saw with the behavior of the great Wall Street firms in 2008, which triggered the global financial crisis.

Now, Japan will need high standards of citizenship, of government responsibility and initiative and of private sector resilience, all working together, to repair the damage and rebuild to even higher standards.

We believe that the Japanese people and government and corporate leadership is up to the challenge. And we are encouraged that the world is stepping up to assist."



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