The Three Rs I Live By–Respect, Responsibility and Restraint

 

(Original in English)

I try to live by the three Rs:  Always be Respectful, often be Responsible and sometimes show Restraint.

The first R, the respect, comes from my belief that everyone on earth has the ability to contribute something for the betterment of society.

I suppose it’s my faith in the fundamental goodness of human kind that underlies this belief, but the “always” part in particular doesn’t come easy.

For starters, I don’t need to look too far to find indecent people that I easily judge as unworthy.  At a more philosophical level, I confess there is a troubling element in applying the principle to historical figures like Adolf Hitler, who was as equally evil as he was human.

But it’s also hard to show respect even to those whose motives are not so sinister.  I am speaking about people whose views I disagree with, whose life choices I think are mistaken and whose attitudes I find unhelpful.

When I’m faced with dealing with such people, I recall what Randy Pausch said in his inspiring Last Lecture:

“Find the best in everybody. Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. It might even take years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting.”

The “good” is found in each person’s uniqueness–in personality, in upbringing, in ancestry, in education, in career experience, in personality, in thought process and emotions, in favorites and distastes, in successes and failures, in strengths and weaknesses, in talents and skills, and in friends and company kept.  The cumulation of these differences lead each person to respond to exactly the same situation in dramatically different ways.  Such difference, what the politically-correct society now calls diversity, is invaluable in making the society at large a better place.  It is for this reason that I always strive to give everyone due respect, even if it’s hard and even if I often fail.

Regarding the second R, responsibility, I have conflicting feelings.

On the one hand, responsibility is an essential element for an individual to excel and for society to thrive.  There are many types of responsibility—to family, to colleagues, to society and to the self—but one thing all responsibilities have in common is that exhibiting them breeds trust and confidence.  A society of millions can function only if each individual who comprise it has trust that things will turn out okay even if matters are mostly outside of his or her control.

Responsibility, though, can be constraining.  Quitting a job for another that pays half as much isn’t a responsible thing to do for the family, even if the new job is doubly rewarding.  Doing your own thing isn’t considered the responsible thing to do in Japan, even if the Japanese society can use some independent thought.

Sometimes a release from the shackles of responsibility is necessary to thrive.  I suspect some of the greatest achievements in history were made possible only because a person had the audacity to do something many considered reckless at the time.  The key is in the balance, with the scale tilted towards responsibility over recklessness.  Society can simultaneously achieve stability and stimulation, I think, if everyone acts responsible most of the time but has the audacity to be irresponsible at just the right moments.

With the third R, the restraint, the “sometimes” part goes to the heart of my attitude towards life.

As much as I’d like to think I’m immortal, I realize that there will come a day when I will come to an end.  And when that moment arrives, the one regret I do not wish to have is the wish that I had been the person I was meant to be.

So I intend to live my life as myself.  In the things I do, the stuff I say and the matters I think about, I will go my own way, my surroundings be damned.  I don’t intend on refraining from being myself.

Of course, this attitude inevitably clashes with my second R.  Acting responsibly and restraining oneself are two sides of the same coin. I may want to drink but won’t if I’m being responsible about driving.  I may want to talk politics and religion but shouldn’t if I’m behaving responsibly in a dinner with unfamiliar company.

Thus, I realize I need to show restraint.

But I also feel the need to do so only in moderation if I abide by the other two Rs.

After all, if I’m always respectful of the people who surround me and I act responsibly in moments that I must, haven’t I earned enough trust to be whoever I want, however I want, most of the time?

Announcing Major Changes to the Blog

I have exciting news for the very few readers of this blog.

The site, which will celebrate its ninth anniversary this October, is getting a huge makeover that will make it easier for all readers to navigate through the contents.

Many of the benefits are associated with splitting the Japanese content from the English content that enables English-only readers to avoid the clutter created by incomprehensible Japanese characters.

But there is much more.

URL

The first big announcement is the URL change.

The blog, which has been hosted on wordpress.com from its inception, has moved to a new, personal domain, www.joesas.net.

Now that the URL address is simpler and easier to remember, I’m hoping that all of you will remember to visit my blog more often than once a year.

Look and Feel

The site’s look and feel has gone through a complete remake.

Whereas the goal of the old site was simplicity, the new site seeks to combine more color, accessibility and readability.

The update is accompanied with various new features to encourage engagement, like easier sharing of posts on social media and ratings of posts.

Although it’s late in coming, a Related Posts feature has also been added.  This feature should provide a fairly reliable recommendation of posts in light of my clean-up of tags and categories.

Dual Language Support

As many of you no doubt noticed, the number of posts in Japanese on this blog has been increasing lately. This has made it cumbersome for English readers to navigate through Japanese content to get to the English material.

In conjunction with the renewal of the site, I have split the Japanese content from the English.  This means that if you can only read English, you no longer have to scroll through weird and incomprehensible characters.

For those who are able to read Japanese, the great news is that English and Japanese versions of the sites are linked; you will be able to easily access the Japanese version of the post, if there is one, with a click of a button.

It’s worth adding tha I have a general policy of writing posts in either English or Japanese, but not both.  Thus, to the extent that there are versions in two languages, each is not a translation of the other, even if they are linked.  Rather, it is likely that I wrote an English version, then revisited the same topic while writing in Japanese.  If you understand the nuances of both languages, I think you’ll enjoy reading and comparing how I wrote anew in two languages on the same idea.

Incidentally, I’ve added Google Translate support throughout the site for those who don’t understand Japanese but who are still interested in trying to comprehend the Japanese posts.   Be forewarned, though: the machine translation produces quality that is so bad even I had trouble recognizing some of the original posts.  The Google Translate feature may not help you understand what I’m saying in Japanese, but it should serve as a good reminder that, no matter how much machines advance, there will always be a role left for humans.

 

All existing content and subscriptions have been ported over, and going forward, all posts and notifications will come from the new site.

I hope you enjoy the new site and the look and feel.

 

A Lenten Reflection–To be More like Christ

(Original in English)

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect–Matthew 5:43~47

I was deeply moved by this Lenten passage.  It epitomizes what I need to strive for in my journey of faith.

In one sense I have come pretty far in that journey, for I no longer find the having of faith to be that difficult.  To be sure, faith has never come easy and it probably never will, but if you ask me the pointed question “Do you believe in God and His son Jesus Christ?” the answer I would give is an unequivocal “Yes.”

But having faith and living it are two very different things.  If action speak louder than words, as the old cliché goes, then my proclamation of faith is drowned out by my everyday behavior.

Regarding this shortfall, I am very much self-aware.  Of all the challenges in my life, the living of faith is probably the one I find most difficult.

There are so many reasons this is so.

For one, I aspire to live a full life, filled with numerous things that occupy my time like friends, work, hobbies and curiosities.  I’m constantly stimulated and rarely find a moment of boredom, but I confess, faith is not what mostly occupies my mind, heart and soul.  I feel in touch with faith whenever I have moments to reflect, but those moments are few and far between. In the day in and day out, in the every moment of every hour, my faith takes a back seat.

My personality also doesn’t help.

I am passionately opinionated about everything, which also means that I can be highly judgmental. There is not a moment that goes by that I’m not judging a person to be good or bad or right or wrong, and cutting loose in my mind the people who fall into the latter category.  I am terrible at forgiveness, regarding which my take is “why is there a need to forgive the bad and the wrong?”

That attitude, of course, is entirely at odds with Christianity.  As Jesus taught in the Matthew passage above, what the followers of Christ are called upon to do is to forgive the unforgivable, as Jesus Himself exhibited when he forgave those who nailed Him to the cross.

I realize I fall woefully short of this standards set by Jesus, yet there is a part of me that has remained unapologetic.  I cannot help but ask: if God created every person in His image, then am I not in His image despite my inclinations to judge?

It is only recently that I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to change this line of thinking.

For the last couple years, I’ve concluded every prayer with the request that Jesus remain with me always, realizing that my moments with Him are fleeting, but recently, I’ve been adding that I may live my life more like Him, in the recognition that I am ever imperfect.

This Lenten season, I have made a commitment to do my own part to bring those prayers to fruition, to at least make an effort to act the way that Christ would have acted.

That means I don’t judge, I just observe.

That means I don’t dismiss a person for his or her perceived shortcomings.

That means I treat every person, no matter how perceivably indecent, with dignity and respect.

That means I cherish every life and lament the loss of any.

That means I don’t get angry with perceived slights, against me or others.

That means I forgive even if the wrong is seemingly unforgivable.

And that means I become always mindful of how Christ would have acted, despite all that is going on in my life.

None of this will come easy, for they represent a fundamental change in the way I go about my life.

In fact, I’m very likely to fail.

But during Lent, I have made a commitment to try.  That may not be much, but I’d like to think that it is a major step forward in my every continuing journey of faith.

 

“Silence” (2016) is a Deeply Reflective Journey of Contemplation into Faith

(Original in English)

9/10

MV5BMjY3OTk0NjA2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTg3Mjc2MDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpg

It is 17th century Japan, a bad time and place to be a Christian.  The feudal government is committed to eradicating Christianity through the torture and killing of believers, convinced that the religion is unfit for the Japanese people.

In the Portuguese colony of Macau, the Jesuits receive news that Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is living in Nagasaki, Japan, renounced his faith after being tortured. Finding this difficult to believe, Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield of “The Amazing Spiderman” (2012)) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) set out on a dangerous mission to find their mentor and uncover the truth.

Continue reading

 

Letter to James, My Newly-Married Friend

(Original in English)

Dear James,

As I attended your wedding celebration last week, so many thoughts came rushing through my head.

I thought about our friendship and how it is a reminder that friendships take many forms.  You and I attended high school together, yet it was our geographic proximity during graduate school and the discovery then that we shared a wide range of common interests that really deepened our friendship.

I thought about all the fun we had together doing the small things that added up to a lot, like going out to movies, eating full course meals, attending Boston College football games, agreeing on politics and debating law.

I thought about who you are as a person and values you hold most important, like loyalty, love and kindness.  Those are the qualities I treasure most about our friendship and are the reason I consider you one of my closest confidants when I need to talk to someone about life.

I thought about how there is so much you’ve taught me about life.  While I tend to live my life by the motto “Que cera, cera,” your methodical and thoughtful approach reminds me that there is something to be said for contemplating about the future, planning for it and succeeding through diligence and perseverance.

I thought about the passion you have for your work and the intensity you bring to life.  I’d like to think that I bring the same kind of energy to what I do, but I confess I’m no match for you, for I often get exhausted just watching you go all out, all the time.

I thought about our careers and how we ended up in a similar environment in the same profession.  I knew a long time ago, when we were just starting out, that you’d achieve the promotion you got right before the wedding.  I admire the fact that you consider your new role just the beginning to even greater aspirations for your career.

I thought about the time I met Diana for the first time. It was only a little more than a year ago, but I could tell even then that she was going to be The One from the way you were looking at her.

I thought about all of these things, then I became overwhelmed with emotions.

The emotions were many, but if I were to encapsulate in one phrase what I felt, it’s pride in seeing your becoming a man right in front of my eyes.

We’ve been adults for some time, of course, but adults only in the sense of being independent, self-sufficient, tax-paying members of society.  As I watched your getting married, I realized that the decision to share a life with another person, to bear the responsibility for not just one’s own life but also a life of another, is what truly makes one into a grown man.

With your marriage to Diana, you will be ahead of me in the journey of life, as has been so often the case.  I’m not ready to take the step that you took last week–I’m pretty serious when I say I want to be 18 forever–but perhaps for the first time in my life, I contemplated how my adulthood may look.

If and when I get to where you are now at, I hope that you will still be there to provide me guidance.

Congratulations, my friend.  You are very lucky to have found Diana, a wonderful bride to an amazing groom. For evidence of what an incredible person both of you are, look no further than all the love in the air at the reception celebrating your union.

As you embark on your new journey with Diana, I only have one advice.

Don’t change.

Continue to be the thoughtful, loyal, compassionate person that you already are, for I am certain those qualities will serve you well in your life with Diana.

Continue to be passionate about life and what it has to offer, for I have faith that it will bring your new family much happiness.

Continue to have faith in God, for He will help you through the numerous challenges a marriage inevitably brings.

And continue to be my good friend, for–as selfish as it is–I don’t want to lose all of you to Diana.

Thanks for inviting me to be a part of the celebration of your and Diana’s new life together.

Thanks for being my invaluable friend.

I wish you and Diana the best in your future together.

Sincerely,

Joe

img_0466

 

2016 Was the Year of Changes

Below is the letter that I enclosed in this year’s Christmas cards.  

With the holiday season fast approaching, I hope this letter finds you well.

If I were to pick one phrase to describe the past year, it would be “The Year of Changes.”

On the professional front, I left Shearman & Sterling in May after seven and a half years at the firm in order to join Amazon in Japan.  The jump from being an experienced lawyer at a mega law firm to a first-time in-house lawyer at an IT company has brought major changes to my life, the most obvious manifestation of which is an improved work-life balance.  On the personal front, I lost a family member when my grandmother died at the age of 92 in October, but I will soon have two family members living much closer to me as my mother and sister decided to move back to Japan after all the years living in the U.S.

As I look back on the eventful past year, I’m reminded of the old saying, “All good things must come to an end.”

I do not handle such “ends” well.  My personality is such that I easily find satisfaction and happiness in the present and have a strong desire to retain the status quo.  It’s not an understatement to say that I feel a great sense of fear towards change.

Having gone through a lot of changes in 2016, some voluntary and others not, the one way in which I feel I’ve personally grown is how I’ve come to realize that changes are often an indispensable element of a meaningful life.

I’ve felt this in particular through a change in my career.  I had heard Amazon described as a start-up that never grew up, and it’s a truly apt description.  In my new workplace, I’m constantly pushed to exhibit skills that I’d never before had to show while supporting blockbuster growth in a business and an industry that remain mostly foreign to me.  At Amazon, I’m always stimulated and my worldview is constantly expanding.

Leaving Shearman was a difficult choice because of the comfort I’d developed with the colleagues there, but a little more than half a year since the move, I’m glad I was able to make the big decision. My greatest discovery this year has been in learning that getting out of the comfort zone and jumping into the unknown could be a scary but deeply rewarding experience.

Because this past year was such an upheaval, I’m hoping that the upcoming year would be a little calmer.  Yet there is a strong part of me that is desiring to have equally stimulating moments next year, a feeling that is no doubt influenced by the experiences of the past year.  Now that I have more time to pursue interests outside of work, I’m thinking, perhaps, that I can finally seek stimulation in the world of politics (albeit not as a politician).

Despite all that had happened in 2016, the one thing that didn’t change was my ability in Japanese chess. The improvement in this area is the one change I’d been seeking for over two years, so I’m hoping that if there is only one notable change in 2017, it’s that I’ve gone up a skill level or two in Japanese chess.

Merry Christmas, and may your 2017 be a stimulating one.

 

Why Donald Trump Won: Decade-Long Struggle of the Democratic Party with White Voters, and Other Unexplainable Factors

(Original in English)

This is Part II of a special two part series on post-election mortem.  

In Part I, I discussed what I think we are called upon to do in light of Donald Trump’s victory while also providing some level of comfort for those frightened by his presidency.

In this Part II, I dig into the election results to see what I got right about the election, and more importantly, how I got the result so wrong.

My thoughts before the election are here.  Part II elaborates on many of the points I initially raised in the footnote there.

I, like most others, thought that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald J. Trump with a comfortable margin on election night.

I was clearly wrong, but before getting into the why, permit me to start with what I got right.

In the footnote to my pre-election perspective, I noted how the conventional wisdom focusing on the Democratic Party’s advantage in the changing demographics of America is an incomplete story because of the party’s loss of the white vote.

I thought a good way to start the discussion in this post was to revisit the four states I mentioned in that earlier post–West Virginia, Missouri, Montana and South Dakota, all of which have a predominantly white electorate yet are outside of the South–and see how Hillary Clinton ended up performing there.

The chart below shows how Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1996, Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (as of November 10) performed vis-a-vis the Republican nominee nationally as well as in each state.  The (+) shows that the Democratic nominee beat the Republican nominee while the (-) shows that the Democratic nominee lost.

1988
(Michael Dukakis)
1996
(Bill Clinton)
2012
(Barack Obama)
2016
(Hillary Clinton)
National -7.8 +8.5 +3.9 +0.2
West Virginia +4.8 +14.8 -26.8 -42.2
Missouri -4.0 +6.3 -9.4 -19.1
Montana -5.8 -2.9 -13.6 -20.5
South Dakota -6.3 -3.5 -18.0 -29.8

As the chart shows, ever since Michael Dukakis outperformed his national eight point loss in all four states, the Democratic nominee has progressively performed worse, with the bottom falling out on Tuesday night.  The collapse in West Virginia, which was a solid blue state as late as 1996, is particularly stunning.

In this sense, the election of 2016 was the perfect storm for the Democratic Party.  As the party continued to hemorrhage the white vote for several cycles, the Republican Party nominated a man who rode to the nomination the wave of white blue collar voters that used to form the core of the Democratic Party.

In my pre-election post, I flagged the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan as those that may surprise on election night because those states have a large number of working-class whites. I’d like to take credit for calling out the latter three states in particular, but never in my wildest dreams did I think Trump will carry each of those states; after all, I said “I don’t doubt Donald Trump will be swamped.”

So where did I go wrong?

First and foremost is in how much the Republican base ultimately came around voting for Trump.  During the primary season, in exit poll after exit poll, Republican voters indicated they could not accept Trump as the party’s ultimate nominee.  I took them at their word (mostly because I was in the same boat) and expected that Republicans would abandon Trump in doves in the general election, either by crossing party lines or just staying home. Yet, exit polls showed that not only was the share of the Republican vote higher this time compared to 2012 (32% v. 33%), nine out of ten Republicans voted for Trump.  I was in the distinct minority of Republicans who kept their word.

I also overestimated the impact Trump’s shenanigans would have on voters.  Past audio tapes and witnesses who came forward afterwards strongly suggested that Trump has no respect for women, yet he won 42% of the women vote, which was only marginally lower than the 44% Romney garnered. In fact, Trump carried white women by 10 percentage points, with 53% of the vote.

Trump didn’t seem to have suffered much with the Hispanics, either.  Despite calling Mexicans rapists and threatening policies that would “self deport” immigrants, he got 29% of the Hispanic vote, which was higher than the 27% Mitt Romney got.

I can’t begin to come up with reasons that explain these numbers.

I can only speculate, but at the end of the day, I think what happened was that each party had nominated the one person who could lose to the historically-bad nominee of the other party. Speaking as a Republican, Hillary Clinton was the one person I could not in my good conscience vote for, and she was apparently not all that popular with the Democratic base either, as evidenced by the 11% of self-identified Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton.  Many more Democrats in the Obama coalition probably stayed home, even as the working class whites came out in doves to vote for Trump.  It didn’t help that she is a historically terrible candidate who ran another terrible campaign.

Of course, Trump’s strength with working class whites, Republicans coming home and  Clinton’s unpopularity all showed up in the polls, which consistently indicated that the election was a three to four point race.  That’s pretty close, especially considering the margin of error, yet until the day of the election, I was with all of the pundits who said that a Clinton victory was all but assured.

Why?  Because I was convinced that a Donald Trump presidency was impossible.

That was my biggest mistake.

As the always-insightful Sean Trende of RealClear Politics cautioned months ago, when the clinching argument is “it cannot be,” it probably is.