There was an article in the New York Times the other day about improving yourself. I'm always looking to improve myself so I read it. Hmm, hmm, hmm, ok not bad. Then I hit upon this part:
She recommends practicing a Japanese technique called kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements. “Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain,” Ms. Ryan notes in her book. “If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain, where we have access to our creativity and playfulness.”
Ooh, yet another magical Japanese philosophy for a higher form of Being. Right.
So, let's look at that work kaizen. In kanji it's 改善: the 改 part means to change, improve, to renew; the 善 means good. So put together it means to improve for the better. That part is accurate. But that's really all there is. It is not some mysterious and sage sounding Big Philosophy, and the word itself does not imply that you improve yourself little by little. If you look at the English Wikipedia entry for kaizen you will see there are few, if any, sources cited at all.
Just ask a Japanese person if they are practicing the Kaizen Method, and they are likely to look at you totally puzzled.
There is, however, some sort of business consulting group that calls itself the Kaizen Institute, which is based in Zug, Switzerland of all places. What hey! I live less than 30 minutes from there. Their web site cites several examples of companies using KAIZEN Philosophies. Of course companies like Toyota are interested in implementing improvements to their products and methods. Isn't every decent company? Aren't we all interested in some way or another in improving ourselves, unless we've given up or are dead?
Anyway, the point of this is: next time someone tells you there is some mysterious Japanese Method or Philosophy, take it with a big grain of salt. (I'll talk about that Zen thing some time too.)
Some other words using 改める
- 改める (aratameru) - to improve, renew, redo.
- 改良 (kairyou) - to improve and make good
- 改築 (kaichiku) - to renovate a building, apartment etc.