Culture Matters: What retirees at Fukushima nuclear plant can teach us

What would you say to me if I was retired and enjoying my golden years and I told you that I felt it was my duty to go work in the nuclear plant I use to work in where I would most likely die a horrible death due to radiation poisoning?

Would you understand; be shocked; ask me if I had forgotten to take my meds? Our cultural backgrounds would, in large part, influence our response to this question. The cultural values we ‘inherit’ inform our thinking on a daily basis and affect our personal values.

Fukushima retirees head back to ‘work’

I heard a story today on the radio about the retirees of Fukushima Nuclear Plant (Japan) planning on returning to work to help clean up the disaster caused by the recent Tsunami. A past employee started the group, which consists of about 500 people aged from their mid-fifties and up.

They feel that it is their duty to participate in this work because they were a part of running the plant for many years. They also don’t feel that it is fair to ask the younger workers to do this, as they are still young enough to be raising families where the retirees’ children are already grown.

The retirees want to assume the most hazardous parts of the cleanup. They know that this is basically a death sentence and yet they have freely volunteered to do the work.

Who are you working with?

Knowing something about a person’s cultural background is important to helping people solve the challenges they have come to you with. It doesn’t matter whether your role is that of coach, therapist, counselor or something else, having an understanding of your client’s cultural background is going to help you do your job better, get better results for your client and avoid some potentially big misunderstandings.

Questioning with respect

Most people are comfortable talking about their cultural backgrounds when they feel someone is asking them respectfully and with an open mind. Being genuinely curious about the other person and how they see the world through their cultural lens can create the proper atmosphere for a fruitful dialogue.

It’s also important to keep in mind that no one person can speak for their entire culture. There are just too many variables and ways to interpret cultural being-ness. Culture is truly a delicious and at times a totally contrary soup full of subtle and not so subtle flavors bursting to the surface or waiting in the depths to be discovered.

Using images is a nice indirect way to get at some of this information as they help to surface core values naturally and without even asking. Core values can be a reflection of cultural values and surfacing them will give you many opportunities to ask questions that will help you understand your client better.

Cultures within cultures

There can be regional and other differences within cultures that need to be taken into account. I am from the northeastern part of the US originally and now live in the northwest. Even though we are all Americans, there are some significant differences in attitudes and how we express ourselves.

For example, in the northeast people will joke with you and give you a hard time if they like you. Here in the northwest, people interpret this behavior as being rude. Go figure.

Questions for Fukushima

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit down and talk to the retirees planning on going back to work at these reactors? How did they come to this conclusion? Why did they decide to do this? What thoughts and feelings are they having? Why do they feel it is their duty to help with this mess?

If you are Japanese and reading this, you might be wondering why I am even talking about this. Of course the refugees feel it is their duty. What else could they be feeling?

But for an American, I find the mindset of these people to be intriguing, because we would not come to this same decision collectively in my culture. Any retired nuclear reactor employees would likely offer their expertise at most. To have 500 of them volunteer to go clean up the mess would probably never happen as that is not part of our cultural mindset.

What would you like to ask the Fukushima retirees?

If you were in a position to interview these people, what questions would you have for them? Does their decision to help out align with your cultural norms or run contrary to it?

 

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