Monday, February 1, 2016

The nail that sticks up

There's a quite famous Japanese phrase "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down". This refers, obviously, not to any actual form of woodwork, but a philosophy on life where harmony is valued and dissent not tolerated. "Don't make waves" would be a similar expression in English but it is not quite the same as it implies the action taken carries a negative connotation whereas its Japanese cousin discourages any form of independent action, for good or ill. Just don't be different from the crowd.

The concept, although considered by some a little archaic, is deeply ingrained in the country's psyche as a group mentality. Indeed, even in the workplace people would prefer to be recognised as a team than as an individual, irrespective of contribution to a successful outcome, or lack thereof. People in Japan simply prefer to be seen as a cogent entity rather than a talented solo artist. And there is a reason for this and it's seeped in history.

For centuries Japanese culture revolved around subsistence rice farming for sustenance and this required communal support. You can't plant and nurture a rice field all on your own, it takes the entire village. So if you're cast out you're probably going to starve. And the option of joining a new village was somewhat limited, they would want to know why you were cast out in the first place. So the nail kept his head down. Or got hammered down. Or died out. And Darwin had a theory about that.

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