Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Righting a Can in Japan

I'm still debating if it was the right decision.  Next to the bike pump at the Asahi bike shop there was an empty aluminum can.  So often in Japan this dilemma arises.  In America, it takes very little to carry a piece of garbage a short distance to the next receptacle.  It is a small act of good will that many people exercise.  In Japan, it could be hours until you find one.  Additionally, by taking a piece of garbage into your own hands, you take away that responsibility from others who are meant to do it.  And you may dispose of it improperly.

But today, this can was two feet away from a receptacle.  It seemed a mere matter of putting something into its proper location so I did.  But from the moment I intervened in the fate of that can I felt overwhelming doubt.  This had not been a recycling receptacle.  Perhaps I was creating more work for someone who would later need to sort it to its proper place.  Perhaps that can was supposed to be there for some reason.  Perhaps the owner would come back and find it missing.  Or perhaps a worker had already noted the can refuse but had been called away to do other things before able to attend to it and now would have to undo the wrong place I'd put it.

But there was no turning back.  I had done the deed, thinking it was a good one.  And maybe it was.  But maybe not.  Sometimes it can be very hard to know.  Culture can do so much to help condition these ideas of right and wrong, good and bad.  Many of them are universal, but there are others that are not always so clear.

In the grand scheme of these, this can is likely a small offense.  In truth, the pinch of guilt is not so serious.  But it is an echo of that feeling of uncertainty of one's own benevolence which can emerge in any culture, familiar or not:  am I doing what is good, what is right?  Such uncertainty can undermine one's actions, call into question one's motivations.

Japan, my intentions are good.  To the best of my knowledge this is true.  I hope that can finds its place in a righteous universe.

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