Being civil is socially intelligent.
Here’s an example.
A friend of mine was in Japan a couple of years ago, on a warm night in the suburbs of Tokyo. She got off a train and became completely lost, trying to find her hotel. Having walked around for fifteen minutes, looking up at street signs that were all in Japanese, she started to feel fairly desperate.
She was a little frightened. The streets were deserted.
Remembering she had a map in her rucksack, she took it out, in the vain hope it would help her.
An elderly man then came along the street, heading her way, and she decided that she’d ask him to help.
Speaking little Japanese, she pointed to the map, and then shrugged her shoulders to indicate how lost she was. The old man looked, shrugged his shoulders too and shuffled by, muttering in Japanese as he went. Desperation returned.
But less than a minute later, the man came back holding a pair of glasses to read the map. Once he’d done that, he gestured for my friend to follow him, and after a five minute walk she found herself outside her hotel.
It was 11.30 at night, and this gentle man had gone out of his way to help a complete stranger.
Frankly, on hearing this story I thought my friend was exaggerating. Or if she wasn’t, then this had to be a one-off situation. A complete stranger taking the trouble to help a woman in the middle of the city, not simply directing her to the place where she wanted to be, but actually taking her there, without the ability to communicate verbally as to what he was actually doing? – it was almost preposterous.
But that was before I had visited the country for myself.
Within minutes of landing in the country, in the airport bus station, I encountered the friendliness, courtesy and civility of the Japanese.
Having allowed myself time to reflect, I now feel a need to share these very positive examples of spiritual and social intelligence in action.
But there’s more.
Our 3Di intelligences model makes it explicit that the intelligences work together, and we need to be mindful of all the intelligences.
Whilst a helping hand in another country demonstrates social intelligence, it also shows a level of spiritual intelligence in the feelings associated with such kindness. There is also a possibility that such acts of civility have become ‘instinctual’ in a nation that has been brought up to “foster an attitude to value justice, responsibility, equality, mutual respect and cooperation, and actively contribute, in the public spirit, to the building and development of society” (The Basic Act of Education, Japan 1947 and 2006)
So what exactly did I witness and experience?
Having caught a train into Osaka, we found ourselves at the wrong station. We asked a passer-by for help simply by stating the name of the station that we wanted to go to. He initially bowed his head, shook it, and then beckoned us to follow him, whereupon he led us to the underground platform that we required. He then turned away in the other direction. He wasn’t going to the same place as us but had decided to take us where we needed to be, regardless of the imposition.
Having found the train to Kyoto, we met a very friendly couple, Koji & Yasuko Tsuji, who searched through their map of Kyoto to ensure that we got to the appropriate station and the correct exit from it for a bus to the first temple we planned to visit. They pointed to the place on the map and we smiled our gratitude. However, when we got to the station of Karasuma, they walked us along the corridor to our exit. It wasn’t enough for them to merely direct. They felt a need to finish the job properly.
Civil. Courteous. Generous. Compassionate.
This was beginning to look as though my friend had not been exaggerating about the help she received in Tokyo. It appeared that these wonderful people really were prepared to put themselves out to accommodate the needs of visitors to their country.
There was courtesy in every interaction and encounter.
These gentle, polite greetings and offerings of assistance are perfectly natural to the Japanese.
It is a learned instinct.
As we journeyed on through the day, we met with countless other incidents of this civilised approach to humanity; a man who led us up a hill and directed us towards our next destination, the man in the coffee shop who was happy to accommodate our every request.
On finally finding a bus to take us back to the centre of Kyoto, we began talking to a woman on the bus. Where were we going? she asked. We explained that we were trying to catch a train back to Umeda, Osaka, but were not sure where to catch it.
She then called out to the crowded bus and ascertained which of her fellow travellers might be going in the same direction as us.
Three teenage schoolboys apparently said they were heading to a station from where we could catch the Umeda train. So when they stood up to get off they beckoned to us to follow, walked us through a couple of road crossings and took us straight down to the platform for our train to Osaka.
Lots of similar situations happened whilst we were in Japan.
There was a man who indicated that he couldn’t speak English but then went out of his way (five minutes out of his way) to take us to Nishiki market. Then there was a young couple who quickly used a smartphone to show us a translated version of a map, directing us to the correct bus stop for our next temple visit.
There was a woman, quietly walking her Shiba dog, who went out of her way to ask the Master of the local Zen temple if we could be allowed to walk in the gardens despite them being officially closed for the day.
And there was a waiter in a bar who, sensing we were not exactly thrilled with the Frank Sinatra music oozing out of the speakers, brought us a list of their entire collection of CDs for us to make our personal choice.
Incredible! Unbelievable, even.
And this is all before I’ve even mentioned the generosity and lovingkindness that we received from our colleagues and newfound friends at Mukogawa Women’s University and Kinokuni Children’s Village School.
Everything is done with total sincerity. This is social and spiritual intelligence in action, without thoughts of “what’s in it for me?”
I am in awe, and humbled.
Lovingkindness is not just an aspiration. It is shown in the smallest and simplest of acts that are in fact huge acts of generosity.
Lovingkindness is at the heart of spiritual intelligence, as well as social intelligence. And in giving we also receive something that adds to our wellbeing.
Such things can and do occur in other countries too. Only the other day we were able to provide some information and guidance to a visitor to our country who was walking in the area around the Olympic Park. There was also a young person who offered to help me with my appallingly large suitcase at the top of a flight of stairs. He did it naturally and spontaneously, expecting nothing in return.
These acts of civility are priceless, but without a commitment to teaching values and virtues in schools and in the home, they may not happen. If we also had an Act of Education that required the teaching and learning of civility, who knows what we could aspire to?
For me, this is what the Japanese have managed. It is what we, in the west, can manage too if only we have eyes open, ears listening and a determination to embrace lovingkindness at all times, instinctively.