Like many of you, I recently watched in horror and sadness as Japan faced tremendous disaster in the forms of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.  Initially, my focus was on the people who perished, those who were hurt, and the sheer physical devastation of the region.  Then my thoughts shifted to the precarious search and rescue missions under way, as well as the medical and financial aid required to support the survivors. 

This weekend, I was struck by a very different news story coming from Japan—one that was almost buried by the other reports of unimaginable suffering.  Despite the disaster and subsequent shortage of food, water, shelter and medical care, the Japanese people were behaving in a calm, civilized manner.  No panic or hysteria.  No complaining or fighting.  No looting or stealing.  Perhaps sadly, that seemed almost unbelievable to me. 

As someone who is passionate about emotional intelligence, I was truly inspired by the Japanese people’s boundless empathy and respect for their neighbors.  All of us as citizens of the world could learn some powerful lessons about emotional intelligence by watching this remarkably dignified response. 

So what is it about the Japanese people that compels them to maintain such admirable conduct even in the face of a horrific disaster?  In the Japanese culture, people attach great importance to the state of harmony and the idea of accommodating others before taking for themselves.  The Japanese people have mastered the art of managing their emotions and controlling their impulses, even during a crisis. These lessons are firmly ingrained throughout the society, regardless of age, income or political opinions. In fact, high emotional intelligence appears to be an accepted and expected standard for everyone in the country. 

Without this unique and widespread cultural norm, the situation in Japan would likely be much worse today. Instead, I continue to hear about examples of people who don't want pity, who aren't angry at the relief delays and, in fact, who seem to echo sentiments of strength, endurance and survival.  My heart goes out to all of those touched by this disaster, and my thoughts are with the people of Japan as they set an honorable example for all of us.