Victor Hugo, was a supreme novelist. He depicted the miseries of the poor, and awakened the sense of compassion in France, as Dickens did in Britain. But Dickens could not create the beauties that the poet Hugo could express, even in translation. When I was a boy, I found Hugo’ s Les Miserables on my father’ s bookshelves. At the age of eight, I read it again and again; I find that I know some of the details better than most French people, who have, I suppose, read it only once. (It is a classic, and most of us read our national classics only once at most.)
Whether it made me more compassionate I do not know, hut it gave me an insight behind the scenes of our vaunted civilization. It also showed me that happiness does not depend on being with many people. It can be solitary. The scenes of happiness in Dickens are often set in noisy parties and groups; Victor Hugo showed serenity in lonely contemplation of an ideal.
So I think I see in cases like Victor Hugo how the spirit of the nation rises up to correct some of its faults ~~ in this case hardness and a satisfaction in wounding. If we look at the British, we find that they are not so vindictive when they win, and moreover they do not take special pleasure in the misfortunes of others. Many nations find a particular satisfaction when they see that others are less well placed than themselves. But this is not a general British vice.
An old Shanghai Chinese once made an interesting remark to me about my country: ‘You British are hypocritical and foxy. But you have one very good point. You are selfish like everyone else, but if you get what you want, then you are satisfied with that. Most other nations, when they get what they want, are still not satisfied : they try to prevent anyone else from getting it too’. I felt pleased by the last remark: I had never thought about it in that way, but it has some truth. As to the ‘hypocritical’, most of us admit to that, and many of our greatest writers have satirised it. But when I tell them that we have the reputation in the East as ‘foxy’, most British people are amazed. They deny it at once. I say: ‘Don’t think of us individually; think of us internationally. Don’t you think it has some truth ? ‘ After some thought, many say: ‘Yes, I suppose so’.
But still, all nations play foxy tricks; at least (as the French would say) if they can think of any. No, the besetting weakness of the British is complacency and inertia. ‘Oh, it is good enough, it works quite well. Why change it ? ‘ It is difficult to get the British excited. It sounds like a formula for disaster, and sometimes it has nearly been so. But we have been saved by certain counter movements. The parallel with Victor Hugo and French vindictiveness and hardness would perhaps be GEORGE Bernard Shaw. If we are asked to name the six best English plays of the 20th century, they would all be by him. And he ruthlessly exposed our laziness and complacency, well as hypocrisy, in these masterpieces. He is laughed at, but finally honoured.
This is a second saving characteristic: tolerance of eccentrics. Often eccentrics are mad, but sometimes they are geniuses. In
Britain as a rule, they have not been persecuted, but left alone to develop their ideas. Among the many eccentrics in science, for instance, some turned out to be men of genius; they were mostly ignored for a time but not persecuted, whereas in France the wonderful Pasteur was bitterly opposed by the medical profession. He once remarked: ‘I did not know a man could have so many enemies’.
What about Japan ? We see sometimes traces of the vindictiveness which British people think is French. The extermination of the Heike, pursued through centuries, and the remaining prejudice against hisabetsu buraku even today are examples. Like the French, Japanese have developed a wonderful culture of small things.
(‘Small things’ – the patronising phrase reveals the British yabottai, doesn’t it ?) The words of their popular songs are poems, which stand by themselves, and even get into poetry anthologies. The words of the American and English songs are boorish in comparison.
Even in aesthetics, the Japanese Too Much tendency shows itself. The artistic may degenerate into the artificial. We are amazed to see a traditional dancer wearing thin trousers covering the feet and trailing out some distance behind. The dancer periodically has to kick the trailing ends away behind. It must be difficult to dance in this fashion, hut as a matter of fact it is not attractive because it is so artificial.
It seems to us that Japanese people have a mass of trivial rules and practices which they rely on to give a feeling of safety and identity. Some of them once had a meaning, but now there is often none. They are like the buttons on the sleeve of a man’s jacket, when men rode horses, these were used to button back the cuffs to keep them clean. But today they are merely ornamental, and we do not feel lost without them. In Japan, when the load of trivialities becomes too great, they are not gradually reduced as in British history, but there is a violent convulsion which changes everything. This itself tends to go too far, and so loses its meaning The incredible tangle of the Manyo – gana is replaced by the Kana syllabaries. They become artistic and beautiful, but then and more complicated. Some Japanese books and papers are written in columns from the right edge of the paper, and others in horizontal lines from the left. First – year foreign students of Japanese, who do not know this, sometimes try to translate quite a long piece backwards, trying to find the backwards okuri-gana in the grammar, and force the words to make sense. It may soon be time for another convulsion.
Periodically, Japanese great minds try to check the Too Much drive by bringing in a principle of critical assessment. Dr. Kano examined the systems of jujutsu, and in his critical assessment rejected many of the tricks which depended on surprise, or unreasonable strength, and so on. He was brilliantly successful in bringing out his new system of judo on rational principles.
But it does seem to a foreigner that Japanese people feel resentful, and perhaps nervous, in the face of the 5% doubt or uncertainty in any assessment. Before a decision is taken, they try to foresee everything that may happen. But once the decision is taken, they went to carry it out 100%, and not 95%. They do not like a fox-doubt, as they feel it to be, and they are inclined to think of such a fox-doubt as traitor.
This is the fourth article on the subject and now I will stop. To do more would be Too Much.
In the last two articles I have tried to explain how Dr. Jigoro Kano’s London lecture on Right Action affected me, a youngster of 16. He explained that from judo we could learn how to use just the right amount of force, not too much and not too little. As I have explained, it took me years to understand fully what he meant. At first it seemed obvious; there was nothing more to understand. But I was impressed by his wonderful old Japanese, and I felt inwardly that he would not simply state obvious things – there must be some deeper meaning.
I gradually came to see that he was speaking not just of judo waza, but of the whole attitude to life. I began to see that most of us are either Too Much men, who do everything unnecessarily strongly, or Too Little men, who cautiously test each step before taking it.(The English proverb for such Too Little men is: They look at a penny for an hour before they spend even a half-penny.)
The question is: how are we to correct our habitual attitude of Too Much or Too Little? First of all, of course, we have to recognize which type we are. I think it is easier for the Too Little men to recognize themselves, because their attempts just fail. For instance, if we make the correct judo movements for a throw, at the right opportunity, but the throw fails, it means that we have used Too Little energy in the throwing action. It is perfectly clear that we must use more. If in an argument the other people cannot hear what I say because I spoke too softly, then too I just fail, and it is clear what I must do. it the Too Much men do often succeed in forcing the result. The fault of Too Much does not appear at once. It is only later that they find that they, are not making good progress in judo. When they come against a good technique, they lose badly. The habitual shouters do win arguments at the beginning, but they create resentment all around them, and in the end they are out-manoeuvered. In Dr. Kano’s classical slogan: Juju Sai Sai Go o sei-su-The Gentle indeed will control the Hard.
So it is clear to the Too Little man that he must change. If we take judo as the example, we see that if he keeps on practising, he will change naturally into a Right Action man, because the very practice of judo will be changing his physical condition and his co-ordination. But of course he has to have a strong character, to persist with his judo in spite of continuous defeats-failure after failure. In one sense, it is harder for a Too Much man to change, just because he is sometimes successful. Then the thoughts are sure to come: ‘ Why should I change? I have won’. The historians of war tell us that in the same way the winners of a war do not search for new weapons and strategies. It is the losers who look for something new: they lost. For instance, the Zulus in their years of triumph used to decide a battle with a final grand charge; even when they had acquired guns, they still make the grand charge, though it is quite contrary to the nature of the weapon. So they were defeated.
Therefore the first problem for the Too Much man is to recognize that he uses too much force, and in a wrong way. When he has realized it, what can he do? Well, the characteristic sign of most Too Much men is that they are angry men. They express their anger by using needless force; they feel they must conquer. As I mentioned two months ago about the Japanese carpenter, the true answer is to love things – and for that matter, people – for their own sake, not as objects on which to vent one’s bad temper. But it may take a good time to reach this level, and in the meantime it is not easy to overcome anger, but I heard of an effective way.
A young and able businessman was hampered in his career by his sudden outbursts of fury when contradicted in the presence of other people, for instance at meetings. He asked a friend, experienced in meditation, for advice, but added: ‘I know you’re going to tell me to count backwards from nineteen before I reply. But when I get angry, I forget all that sort of thing. I see a red mist before my eyes, and I can’t control myself. Isn’t there something a bit stronger?1 The friend looked at him, smartly dressed and clearly very careful about his appearance. He said: Yes, perhaps there is, for someone like you. But you have to be ready for a little shock. Buy a little mirror, one that you could hold in the palm of your hand. Keep it in your pocket. When you begin to see that red mist coming up, take out the mirror – get up and go to the window, or even leave the room for a few moments if you can – and hold it in your palm and look it.
The young businessman did this next time he was contradicted. He sat there and looked at the mirror, concealed in his half-closed hand where no one else could see it. He saw a face contorted with rage, lips swollen, eyes with bright red blood vessels. The shock of seeing his own ugliness was like a shower of icy water. He never again lost his temper in public.
When I first heard this, I was reminded of something in my own life. When I was young, I often made biting criticisms of other people; mostly it was in the form of some story about them, and I was not above inventing a few details to give the story an extra twist. I knew this was wrong, I suppose, but I did not think it did any real harm, and I found it amusing, as did a few of my friends who did the same. One day three of us happened to be talking to an Indian teacher, for whom I had considerable respect. To my surprise, that teacher suddenly began telling a rather spiteful story about someone known to all of us. As he went on, we all realized that what he was saying could not possibly be true. His usually placid face had taken on a venomous look as he spoke. I was disappointed in him, and thought, ‘Why, he’s just like the rest of us, he does it too!’ Finally he said something outrageous and one of us said: ‘Oh no, we all know that couldn’t be true’.
The teacher’s flow of words stopped as if a tap had been turned off. After a little pause he began to talk of other things, and soon afterwards we went. We looked at each other without saying, and went our separate ways.But I noticed that the other two were now very careful when talking about other people, and I found that I myself did not find it so amusing to make bitter remarks. We never mentioned it to one another, but we had all seen our own fault mirrored in the teacher’s face and speech, and we did not like what we had seen.
Even when we realize what is wrong, it takes some strength of character to begin to change. We have to get rid of our excuses. The Too Much man says: ‘At any rate, I get something done. I have faith: I don’t have doubts. Maybe I make some mistakes, but there is no progress if we are always afraid of making mistakes’. The Too Little man says: ‘At any rate, I do not make mistakes. I am scientific: science deals in probabilities; there are few certainties in science. It is hard to judge new ideas, but experience shows that 99% of new ideas are wrong. So . reject all new ideas, my judgement be 99% correct. That is a very good figure’.
The goal is to give up these fixed attitudes, and to meet each occasion with a gentle, adaptive attitude, not fixed in Too Much or Too Little.
I came to believe that the various fixed attitudes are what Dr. Kano meant by Hard or Go: his maxim for us was Ju ju Sai Sai Go o Sei-su -The Gentle indeed can control the Hard. He called it an all-pervading principle, and next time I shall try to find some applications to na ^Nal cultures also.
Courtesy is not the same thing as politeness, though on the surface they may look very alike. It could be said that politeness is the surface of behaviour, and often no more than a surface of mechanical good behaviour. On the other hand, courtesy implies that the good behaviour comes not from compulsion or habit or hope of some advantage, hut real concern for others, Originally the word meant the rules of good behaviour at Court, but in Britain it was extended to life in general.
A classic story about courtesy is how the Duke of Wellington(famed as the proudest man in Europe) was walking with a noble lady past a hole in the wall. Through this gate came a workman carrying a heavy sack. The workman stood still, and the lady was about to sweep past
as her right, but the Duke caught her arm and held her back. He nodded to the workman to go on first, saying to the lady: ‘Respect the burden, Madam’. This was a wonderful example of courtesy.
Incidentally, I have read in one of the ancient Indian Lawbooks about right behaviour: ‘One should stand aside to give way to a Brahmin, the King, a man of more than 80, a pregnant woman, or a man carrying a heavy burden’. It shows a high level of behaviour in India in 500 B.C. But because this was following a rule laid down in the Lawbook, we still call it only politeness; I would not say that it is courtesy, because it is not spontaneous and perhaps it is not sincere.
In fact in English usage today, polite generally has the nuance of something insincere, or anyway just mechanical; whereas courtesy comes from the heart. Letters from the Income Tax officials are polite; they begin with ‘Dear Sir’, but usually there is no warmth in them. If I write to a friend asking for help with a little problem, he may write back saying: ‘I will do what I can, but you will realize that it is difficult to get round the rules’. That is a polite reply, but it means that he has decided that he cannot, or will not, help me. But if he writes: ‘I am sorry you have this trouble, but I will try to find some way to get round these overstrict rules’, that is a courteous reply, and I know he will do all he can.
Again, take the case where a friend of mine has managed to get an interview with an important man, whom he hopes to impress. When my friend gets back, I ask: ‘How did you get on?’ He replies; ‘Oh, he was very polite’. I know at once that the visit has been a failure, But if he says that the great man was courteous, I know that at least some interest was shown in him.
Both Japan and Britain are full of polite words and manners. In every generation, some of the young people try to shake off this surface of hypocrisy, as they call it, When one is young, one feels that it is deceitful to say many polite things which we do not really mean, But as we get more experience, we can see that this is not deceitful, because in fact no one is deceived. When the Income Tax man writes to me: ‘Dear Sir’, we both know that there is no affection. In fact we have never met. It is a comical fact that the only people who are deceived are the foreigners who do not know English. If they see these words, and look them up m a dictionary, they will come to some meaning like: ‘Shin-ai naru Tonosama’. That is a surprise to them!
In Meiji times, the Japanese acquired a sort of fairyland reputation because humourous Western translators used to translate the almost imperceptible o- in Japanese words like ocha by the clanking English word ‘honorable’. Even some Japanese contributed to this, because they did not realize that the honorifics (and their opposites) should just be omitted. In early Showa I was sometimes embarrassed by being invited to a Japanese home with the words: ‘It is small and dirty’.
I did not know that these words in Japanese had no meaning-they correspond simply to a polite tone of voice: ‘Please come in’. Even here I am wrong, because I had forgotten that the word ‘Please’ is itself one of the English polite phrases which often have little meaning. One could just say ‘Come in!’ But neither English nor Japanese would like such a bare phrase, without any colthes, so to speak.
Admittedly some of the ornaments can turn into weapons. It is a surprise to us to learn that kisama and tamae can be insulting. We have a few of these in English, for instance kindly; ‘Kindly put that cigarette out’ is far from friendly.
But in general, Japanese and English conversations are littered with sumimasen and shitsurei, and Thank you. If I give a little help to another Englishman, he will say Thank you, to which I reply Thank you. Quite often today, he will then again say Than you. Apparently he is thanking me for thanking him for thanking me for my help. Of course we do not think all this: we just say it.
Well, why do we do it? Why not just say what we mean, frankly and openly, with no softening conventional phrases? Many reasons have been suggested, but let me be frank and open. I believe that the two peoples have strength of character, but are not quick-witted. In fact, we both tend to distrust cleverness; ‘too clever by half’ is a criticism, which correspond, I suppose, to the Japanese zuru-gashikoi.
Because we are not in general quick with the tongue (naturally there are brilliant exceptions), we like to have a little time to think what to say. We are not stupid, but we feel that we must answer sensibly, not that we must answer quickly. All the A so desu ka? and the Oh, really? with which we receive a remark are to give us time to think of something appropriate to say. Just a second is enough. If we replied instantly with a reaction, instead of the colourless So desuka f or Really f we might say something inappropriate or even tactless. Then feelings might be hurt.
Sometimes it could become a quarrel. In any case, there would be a ‘breaking of the serenity’, as we like to translate shitsurei.
We can see an example by watching small children. They speak mostly impulsively and frankly, and they cannot estimate what will be the effect of many of their remarks. So they constantly offend each other, and are constantly quarrelling over tactless little remarks. The politeness of our two nations is, I believe, an insurance against the danger of constant quarrels.
My personal observation is that there we have relatively few disputes and quarrels over trivialities. I worked for over twenty years in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Overseas Services, broadcasting to many different countries. In the big canteen, the international broadcasters would have their meals, mostly sitting together with their fellow nationals. So there would be a Vietnamese table, an Indian table, a French table, a Russian table, and so on. It is noticeable that the Japanese table was always quiet and well-behaved, whereas some of the other tables (I do not want to name them) would occasionally have shouting arguments.
After one serious quarrel, the English head of that section remarked to me with a sigh: ‘I wish some of our other sections could take a lesson in considerateness from your Japanese section’. He was not talking just about politeness. The Japanese usually did not interrupt or bluntly contradict each other. They were tolerant, so there were relatively few quarrels. It was courtesy.
I believe that after centuries of surface politeness in Japan and Britain, there has been le deepening into courtesy. Even mechanical repetition can sometimes have an effect. I remember what Pascal, the French mathematical genius and slso a Christian mystic, said to a man who wanted to believe in God but could not. Pascal told him: ‘Act like a devout believer; go to church every day, say long prayers, give to the poor. Do it very seriously, as if you did believe in God. After a time, you will find that you do’. I do not know whether Pascal’s friend did this, and if he did, whether it worked. But I have an idea that centuries of politeness, imitating true courtesy, have made some of us truly courteous.
Last month I described how at the age of sixteen I heard Dr. Jigoro Kano lecturing in London on the Principle of Maximum Efficiency: Saidai Noritsu Genri- yes, I learnt the Japanese words by heart, like a sort of magic charm. But like many charms, the meaning did not seem to be very profound.
He told us that the principle means: do not use too much force, and do not use too little. I thought this was obvious, and I wondered why such an aweinspiring and highly educated teacher should bother to keep on saying it. It was years before I understood that he was referring not only to individual judo waza or to individual actions in life, but also to one’s whole attitude to the world. I came to realize that most of us are either Too Much men, who always tend to force things, or Too Little men, who are always cautious and ‘tap on the stone bridge before crossing’. Whichever class we personally belong to, we have to try to correct the fault. The Too Much men have to learn to appreciate that gentleness, ju, can be very effective
without waste of effort; the Too Little men have to realize that precautions are endless, and that we cannot live if we always prepare to prepare to prepare.
When I had reached this understanding, it occurred to me that it is not only individuals who have fixed attitudes. Nations and their cultures can be seen in this way-there are Too Much nations, and Too Little nations. Sometimes the clear-sighted ones in the nation are aware of the weakness, and to correct it by their writings and their political and cultural activities. Sometimes they have some success, but in other cases no one will listen to them till there is some sort of national or cultural disaster.
When I had been some time in Japan, I began to notice what seemed to me Too Much-ness. As so often, one sees an unusual idea in some small thing. I was told that a traditional Kyoto hostess would say good-bye to one guest, and then change into new white tabi socks before receiving the new guest. I knew and admired the Japanese passion for cleanliness, but I felt this was purity gone mad.
I know that it is irritating to be told about history as a guide to character. We feel: ‘Oh, we are not like that today’. But about thirty years ago I was told something which was to me equally incredible. We were talking about a senior NHK broadcaster who had had a fine career. Someone said to me, ‘He is not regarded as quite pure NHK, because at the very beginning, before he joined us, he worked with a commercial
company for eight months’. He gave a little laugh as he said this, but he did say it. British people could never make such a comment; we could not even think it. Perhaps Italians could: they have a saying Traduttore e traditore which means, Translators, traitors. A translator must be familiar with many foreign ideas, and so he is not purely Italian in his outlook. And so, he might become a traitor to Italy. British people would think that, though there may sometimes be a tiny bit of truth in the saying, that tiny truth must not be made Too Much.
I admit that the Too Much policy does succeed in its first objective: the Tokugawa ban on foreign-learning – called Dutch learning through an accident of history-is an example of that success. At the end of the 17th century, there was some reason to fear foreign inventions. Japan did stop their import and then the manufacture of firearms. I checked up, and found that in a typical year, for instance 1705, only 250 pistols were manufactured in Japan and were used just in ceremonies. The Tokugawas did secure peace for over two centuries. This was something unheard of in Europe where it took a long time to disarm the civilian populations. The Japanese did it quickly. But then they carried the policy on Too Much. They banned nearly all foreign-learning. They apparently had the idea that if Japan did not concern itself with the outside world, the outside world would not concern itself with Japan.
I checked and found that clear-sighted men such as the scholar Hayashi Shihei tried to warn the government, but they were not listened to, and were even persecuted as ‘war-mongers’. I believe this is a very important point. There are always some who are aware of a national weakness (for instance Too Much or Too Little) and who try to warn. The herd instinct is against them, but when they are respectfully listened to the country has a chance to avoid disaster. I will take up this point it the next article.
For an illustration of Too Much, look buildings. In Japan in the last x iy years, a major new building had to be one or two floors higher than previous ones. It had big signs on every tenth floor, to prove its height. A new hotel had to have the extra floors, though it required more capital, and postponed profitability. When I heard about this, I remembered the Gothic cathedrals of France. Each new one was a few feet higher than the last, till they reached a limit with Beauvais, part of which fell down under the weight of the stone.
To us English, the French have always seemed a Too Much nation. Their French Revolution perhaps had some justification. But having executed the King and about 2,000 aristocrats, they continued, and guillotined about 35,000 others.
Finally they began to execute each other. Robespierre, their most prominent leader, was himself guillotined; even Thomas Paine, the great defender of the American and French Revolutions through his books The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, was imprisoned but managed to escape with his wife.
From England, the politician and orator Edmund Burke gave the English view. Where Tom Paine demanded quick radical changes, Burke said that five months of rage and frenzy can destroy what has taken fifty years of wisdom, foresight, and prudence to build up. But he also saw the weakness of this idea of life as slow evolution-gardening in fact. ‘Our people are sluggish and do not like innovation1, he admitted. In other words, we are liable to do Too Little.
In 1871, the workers of Paris tried to rebel; the French president crushed them ruthlessly, killing altogether an estimated 30,000.
It was the same French authorities that in 1889 built the then useless but magnificent Eiffel Tower(984ft. ; in 1959 raised to 1052 ft.). When London built its own Post Office Tower (what an unromantic mame!), it would have been easy to make it higher than the Eiffel Tower; but the British engineers never considered that. Nor is the height of a new hotel any important factor in designing it. The questions in British minds are, how good is it as a hotel, and how soon will it begin to make a profit?
This common-sense attitude has some strengths, but often it simply lacks vision. And in that sense, I can see that Britain is often a Too Little nation. We are in general cautious; it is not fear, but a balancing of the supposed risks.
The attitude saves us from some terrible mistakes. But it has disadvantages. I can sum these up in this incident: a young student in physics suggests a revolutionary solution to a famous problem. His teacher dismisses it, but later the student gets a Nobel prize for it. The teacher is later asked why he rejected it. He says: ‘I knew that ninety-nine suggested solutions to that famous problem would be wrong, and I simply assumed that his solution was one of the ninety-nine! ‘Too Little enthusiasm, Too Little respect for the student, Too Little daring.
On the other hand, Britain makes fewer mistakes than some others. In the 1800’s, Japanese students occupied universities and fought hopeless battles to defend them. French students did the same, and also deliberately urinated in the lecture halls and rooms in ‘protest’ as they called it. There was little of either of these things from British students. They did protest, but not in these irrational ways. Perhaps my occasional criticism of France comes from my being an Englishman; up to a mere two hundred years ago, we were traditional enemies. So we still tend to criticise them. But we also have to admit that they civilized Europe-and us.
Too Much, Too Little, individuals and nations-the point is, how can we recognize our tendency towards one or the other, and most importantly, how can we change to Dr. Kano’s principle of Right Action ? I will try to look at this next time.