[BOOK REVIEW] " Hell of Human Relations " /by Doi Takayoshi/ Chikuma Shinsho710, Yen720 +Tax
[SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 152 / Dec. 15, 2009]

"Hell of Human Relations"
by Doi Takayoshi/ Chikuma Shinsho710, \720 +Tax

I have two sons: one is 20 years old and the other is 18. Their characters differ. The elder one is a romanticist in his own way. The younger one is realistic and is sensitive towards others. One night I had a long talk with the younger one but found myself unable to understand his thinking on human relationships. Today's Book Review deals with a book recommended by my son that night: "If you read this book, most probably you will understand me," he added.
The subtitle of the book is "Reading the Atmosphere: Survival of Young Generation." Young people today want neither to be offended by others nor to offend anyone. They do not want either to be left alone or to relate deeply with others. They do not want to become individualistic, but on the other hand they hate to be disregarded. The book portrays an image of young people today living in the midst of such difficult human relationships.
On the cover of the book the following words are quoted from the text: "...the choking of human relationships could be expressed with an image used in a report by a middle school student, 'a classroom is similar to a mine field.' Similarly, the same can be skillfully represented by a willow tree at the river side. On the other hand, young people do not choose to withdraw from such human relationships. For them, no matter how many friends they have among their classmates, they never totally trust them. If they just make one mistake, they will immediately become isolated. Consequently, they are extremely sensitive with regard to human relationships and spend their time at school taking care not to step on landmines."
The trend of "individualistic education" is, according to the author of the book, the main cause of such behavior. In former times, the aim of education was "to develop all students' possibilities for achievement," but from 1980 on, Japan's educational policies lost any specific aim and started promoting "respect for personality," "alive energy," and "thinking power." Children are now expected to find out for themselves their hidden possibilities and aptitudes and develop their personalities accordingly. In other words, since 1980, children have had to build their own value systems alone. This is one of the causes of the confusion created in human relationships among young people today.
There is no doubt that "thinking for oneself" and "developing one's personality" are reasonable aims. But, first of all, in order to be able to do that, children must learn criteria for a value system and basic ways of thinking. It is from these that they will acquire the skills to think for themselves. Nevertheless, everything in Japan goes to extremes. "Individualistic education" has been interpreted to mean that children should think based only on what they have or what they experience, without being taught any value system or how to think properly. Thus, children are left to themselves to survive by thinking out ways based only on their own capabilities. Again, the author remarks that this is linked to a characteristic young people have today, an unreliable search for self.
This is not only limited to youngsters. Adults also suffer the same weakness. Prime Ministers are praised for the facile slogans used in their speeches, no matter how shallow their philosophic thinking. Top business people meddle with educational policies and politics in spite of their own lack of vision. As for ordinary people, they just enjoy any single occasion they have to laugh at shows, to enjoy eating out, or to purchase cosmetics. There is no place for discussion of value systems. Even adults of advanced age, unsatisfied with their own self-image, become busy searching for their true self. Although they lament how arbitrarily young people behave, do they realize the real problems children have and try to help them? (I may be one such adult.)
A widely accepted modern sociological theory holds that, since the 1980s, our modern society has introduced globalization, individualism and the market with resulting damage to human relationships. Such being the case, the human relationships of youngsters "reading the atmosphere" are simply the product of our times.
It was not proper maybe, but after reading the book I could not stop laughing because it was exactly the message my son wanted to give me. At the same time, the uneasiness I had often felt in my daily contacts with young people somehow seemed to disappear. Being a parent, there is no reason for me to lament anymore how difficult it is to understand what young people are really thinking. Maybe there is the danger of stepping on some landmine, but for the time being I want to continue thinking that I should step fully into their world.

(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
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