Faith in Strangers
Over time, I've naturally acquired a handful of personal beliefs. Of course, these vary tremendously, from stupid things like the "right" way napkins should be folded, to more serious things like my personal street photography ethics (maybe I'll write about this one day). But one of my most central tenets concerns interactions with others. In general, I consider myself a fairly cynical person; maybe that's exactly why I consciously try and remain positive, be aware of my mindset, and most relevantly trust in others. So consider my surprise when this belief of mine came up in Hanasaku Iroha, an anime I've been watching lately.
Hanasaku Iroha (meaning either something like "The ABC's of Blooming" or "The Color of Blooms") follow Ohana Matsumae, a 16-year-old girl sent to live and work in her estranged Grandmother's traditional Japanese-style inn after her Mother elopes with her boyfriend. It's somewhere between a workplace drama and a slice-of-life series, as Ohana has to content with her strict Grandmother, eccentric coworkers, as well as the regular stressors of being a 16-year-old girl.
In Episode 9, the inn finds itself short-staffed as Ohana's Grandmother is forced to go to the hospital and a member of the kitchen staff has taken the day off, both coinciding with an unusual influx of guests. Ohana, taking charge, decides to go into the town to find the absent junior chef Tōru, who had taken a day off to go to a friend's wedding. Of course this is a mad-dash misadventure, with Ohana not knowing even the slightest details about where the wedding is. She receives some encouragement from her childhood friend, who tells her it'll "somehow all work out," and (also of course), it does.
It's only when she gets back to Tōru's motorbike does she realize the situation. She's pulling a co-worker away from a day of celebration and rest, not only back to work, but to an especially hectic environment. She begins to apologize, and Tōru cuts her off, asking her if she did what she did because she thought it would be for the best. She concedes, and he says:
"If you trusted me enough to think that I'd make everything work, I'll have to do just that."
— Tōru Miyagishi
I think it's best to try and accomplish many things by yourself. It's good to have confidence in your own abilities, and to learn, change, and grow through the process—even if it doesn't result in the outcome you're hoping for. But there are times where you need help from others. And generally, I believe that people rise to the expectations you give them.
"Expectations" can be sort of a fraught word; of course, I don't think you should "expect" people to solve all your problems. There are lots of things it would be unfair, unreasonable, or harmful to expect from one another, and like judgment, expectations can place unnecessary pressure on a person. But there's a positive side to this, too. I think most people want to do a good job, want to be helpful. It feels good to be needed by others, and to be able to accomplish together what someone alone couldn't.
Overall, I'm strongly of the belief that your thoughts have a very real effect on the world around you. One way I like to think about this is through your vocabulary. For anyone who has learned or is learning a new language, you'll know that having a limited vocabulary affects the types of sentences you put together, which affects the way you think in general. If you're playing a videogame, and your 10-button controller has seven buttons dedicated to the aiming, firing, and reloading of a gun, that strongly affects the types of interactions available to you.
"If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail."
— Abraham Maslow
In my Japanese study, I recently came across a phrase that encompasses this. 他力本願 (ta-riki-hon-gan), is a phrase made up of four characters, which is called a 四字熟語 (a yo-ji-juku-go, or literally a "four-character idiom"). These are a bunch of different idioms, often derived from classical Chinese, similar to English idioms like "killing two birds with one stone" (which, oddly enough, has a direct Japanese counterpart: 一石二鳥, or "one stone two birds").
From left to right, the characters in 他力本願 mean roughly "other," "power," "source," and "vow." Together, they mean putting your faith in Amida Buddha, the central figure in Pure Land Buddhism, where praying to Amida Buddha before death will allow you to be accepted into the Pure Land, a place where you can more easily achieve enlightenment for yourself; sort of like Buddhist heaven (for this specific branch, anyways).
The other meaning, of course, is to put your faith in others. Like in English, this often has negative connotations; like you're not taking enough responsibility for yourself. But as with Ohana, there are things you simply can't do alone. She can't suddenly gain the complex knowledge her Grandmother has cultivated over years of work experience, nor can she step into the kitchen and fill the gap. But oddly, her faith in Tōru allows him to come in and provide the necessary stability to the inn, which in turn corrects everything else.
I think most people have experienced this on a small scale with themselves. I started lifting weights this year, and my confidence about my abilities on a given day greatly affect my ability to complete my program. Let alone having anyone else (like a coach or another lifter) encourage me. As Ohana is wavering earlier in the episode, her childhood friend Kou assures her that she's always managed to make things work out okay, and this time will be no different.
So it is with everything. It's not easy to give yourself confidence if you're not feeling pre-disposed to do so, but it's not impossible. But your thoughts, your mindset are things that can be changed, and that change can have an effect on the world. Have you ever felt sad, frustrated, or angry, and stopped to think for yourself, why do I feel this way? What's the root of this? Is it useful? Each of us only has a small range of things we can control in this world. And even within that sphere, there's only so much you can do. Will you take the surprise with joy, wonder, and humility, or bitterness?
In another anime (and manga) series, Chihayafuru, the translators re-translated the Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首), an anthology of classical Japanese poems. One of these has always stuck with me, a mantra that comes to mind from time to time:
In order to restore my faith in this world, I have learned to both love and hate my fellow man.
— Emperor Gotoba, Hyakunin Isshu (Chihayafuru)
Not everyone is earnest, or has earned your trust. But I'd rather default to believing in others rather than being skeptical. It's something I think you can't fake; you have to really believe. So have a little faith. Even though it's hard.
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