There’s an island off the southern coast of Japan called Kyushu. More centenarians live there than most other places. Scientists have studied for decades the life styles of the inhabitants in an effort to determine what keeps them ticking so long. Conclusions are varied.
Some studies have focused on diet, of course. How often do we hear news stories about the latest findings on a newly “discovered” miracle food that will make us thin, happy and ageless?
Japanese people are famous for their regular intake of fresh vegetables, fruits and seafood. But the researchers couldn’t latch onto that as the one-size-fits-all solution because they kept running into people who didn’t eat vegetables at all, mostly ate meat, drank sake and smoked cigarettes. They found this one centenarian who had outlived his son by abstaining from fruits and vegetables and taking up smoking at the age of 70.
They thought there might be something about coming from good stock, as they say, but genetics didn’t play enough of a role in solving the mystery.
However, there was one factor that kept surfacing – social support. The scientists observed that most villages had a program sort of like a social lottery. Once a month, the villagers would assemble at the community center to have dinner together. On a table in the center of the room each attendee would toss their leftover cash from that month into a basket. At the end of the evening, after everyone had heard how one another was getting by, the group would determine who amongst them had the greatest need. That person would go home with the basket of money.
This report reminded me of my first trip to Japan in 2000 to meet my son’s in-laws. The Japanese have a solid sense of “we’re all in this together”. They have had to develop a social cohesiveness because they have to share a small island with a large population. But maybe there’s more to it. If you ask a Japanese person, “How are you?” sometimes you will get this more traditional response, “I am well because of all of you.”
There’s something to be said about looking out for one another. A few months ago, my hometown in Northeast Ohio experienced two significant home burglaries in one weekend where several thousand dollars worth of goods were stolen. 170 residents showed up at the next city council meeting to voice their concerns and demand more police protection. Is that the solution? How many police officers will it take to protect a town of 23,000? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what we could do to protect one another? Sure, we have a few neighborhood watch programs, but really, how well are they working?
The local paper ran a front page article on the robberies. In it, the comment was made that if you are going on vacation, you should tell a few “trusted friends in the neighborhood.” Wait a minute, that implies that not all neighbors are to be trusted. Isn’t there a way that we could build trusting relationships with our fellow block dwellers?
Communities around our nation feel a need to be connected. Yet, our busy lives take us through our days in a blur of activity. We rush home, drive into the garage, the automatic door comes down behind us with a heavy thud. We run inside, put the groceries down, turn on the TV to find out what’s going on in the world while we remain unaware of what’s going in our own neighborhood.
It seems that in America, we have a reverse social lottery. Because we do not get together with our neighbors often enough, by default, we enter ourselves into the social lottery of who’s going to get robbed next. Nobody comes out a winner on that one. Social ignorance is the culprit here. People talk about “street smarts”, what about “social smarts?”
Let’s share some ideas on improving our social smarts.