Thursday, May 26, 2011

My mentality a few days after the Big Shake

I wrote the following one late night in bed after Chu fell asleep. Several aftershocks rocked our room during the typing process, so if you can forgive any melodrama, it may have been caused by the high amounts of adrenaline in my bloodstream at the time.

Escaping Fear Island

Fear Island, home to millions of people, has existed since the beginning of time. It’s a very real place, that most people have visited and many have made it their permanent residence. Despite having millions of occupants, it’s a very lonely place. Very scary things happen here: social strife, war, natural disasters, and every facet of the unknown. It’s a very natural place where people feel comfort yet discomfort simultaneously. It’s very small and difficult to leave, for as I said, it’s an island. It exists in both reality and fantasy, yet both penetrate the human psyche all the same.
Within this week, Japan, also an island (well, actually a collection of islands) has become an embodiment of Fear Island after a frighteningly large earthquake, terrifying multitudes of tsunami, only to follow with threats of nuclear radiation exposure.
Facts from the day of March 11th, 2011
The average earthquake is between a 2 and 5 magnitude. Half a million earthquakes happen within this range every year around the world. The average duration of an earthquake is between 1 and 2 minutes.
However, the Great Tohoku Earthquake, occurring 130 km (81 miles) east of Sendai, Miyagi-ken, Honshu Island, Japan measuring a magnitude of 9.0 shook Japan for over 4 minutes. Merely ten minutes later there was a 7.2 aftershock, just as the first of several 4m (13ft.) to 7.3m(24 ft.) tsunami washed upon the shores closest to the epicenter. Thousands of people experienced these waves firsthand and lost their lives to them. Millions felt the quaking from afar, and even more witnessed live and recorded footage of the events occurring on March 11, 2011. Within 2 hours, the land of the rising sun, an archipelago of 6,852 islands, 3rd largest world economy, inhabited by 127 million people transformed into “Fear Island”.

How did this happen?

Japan is one of the most earthquake prone countries in the world, and its residents have come to terms with this fact, thus forcing Japan to become one of the most “earthquake-ready” nations of the world. Despite this, on March 11th, 2011, Japan experienced the biggest earthquake within modern-recorded history and the 5th largest in the world’s modern history, with modern history being defined as the period after the earthquake scale system had been developed. Large earthquakes occurring in the ocean always raise a threat of tsunami, depending on the movement of the geological plates.

The epicenter of Fear Island

In any given period where one’s life is in danger, biology takes over. Depending on the threat, animals (including people) experience faster breathing and heart rate, difficulty seeing and hearing, dry mouth, shaking, and a difficulty in thinking and making rational decisions. This is often results in panicking, which can often take a long time to recover from.


As a naturally social animal relying on both personal experience as well as communication and shared collectiveness to assess danger, humans are driven to seeking the fastest, most reliable source of information in order to protect their lives. Recent development of communication via the internet has made it easier for people to not only seek data, but to create it. Before social networking media such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogs, people relied on radio and T.V. to feed them the information that they needed. Though, as we’ve come to see through media such as Wikileaks, even those sources can sometimes be unreliable.

However, with the innovation and widespread popularity of the Internet, many people have become self-made reporters. In most cases, this phenomenon is positive as it helps to share opinions among friends, which often can’t or will make front page news.
Though, in the case of current events, this reliance on social media can also be a detriment. When people are desperately seeking accurate information in order to secure their lives, miscommunication and falsehood can damage the quality of their decisions. Misreports from an unreliable news source can cause people unnecessary panic. Since there is a very little regulation of news, one must learn to develop their skills of wading through massive amounts of both founded and unfounded news reports.

Refining your news reading skills

Here is some advice on how to read the news:

1) Who is writing the news story?

Is this person at the location of where the news is happening? Does this person have any real qualifications to assess the current situation? (Google their name and check their credentials) Are they who they say they are? Have they ever written on this topic before? Have they studied and published papers on the topic in which they claim to be “an expert”?) A simple Google search can often help credit or discredit how knowledgeable the writer or interviewee is on the topic.

2) What type of writing style does this writer employ in the news story?

a) Are they using the 1st or 3rd person point-of-view? 1st person is told from the perspective of “I”. For example, “I was on the 3rd floor of the building when the quake shook”. 3rd person uses words like “The Japan Meteorological agency reported a 9.0 quake.” Neither 1st nor 3rd person perspectives are more reliable than the other, however, it’s just good advice knowing what type of writing you are reading. Generally, objective reporting writes in a strict 3rd person point of view.
b) Is the report objective or subjective? Objective reporting tells the facts while subjective includes opinion, hearsay and speculations of the future or the unknown. Obviously, when seeking facts you should look for objective statements, and if you encounter a subjective statement, recognize what it is, and be aware that it’s just an opinion or prediction.
c) Does your news report contain many idiomatic statements? Professional reporters are trained to avoid using cliché statements and meaningless metaphors.
d) Is the news story filled with words of emotion? Oftentimes, the adjectives that writers use are added to the story in order to instill a specific emotion from the reader. Objective reporting does not rely on the crutches of unnecessary, emotional adjectives.

3. Fact check

Click on the links that reporters use in their stories. Do you feel like these links are reliable sources of information? Are they links that other reporters are using?
Focusing on the writing style of the news report that you are reading, from which you are forming your opinions, can be one of the best ways to educate yourself on whether or not to trust the source. By paying attention to these small details in your news, you can more easily discern which news is applicable and trustworthy in your decision-making of an emergency situation, as well as in informing yourself on your stance within political news.

The Aftermath

After undergoing the stress of a devastating situation, one needs to devise ways to escape “Fear Island”.
One suggestion is to help the victims and less fortunate who are suffering more than you. By taking action to bring aid to others, you are able to soothe your own emotional wounds. Besides offering others great help that they are not in a position to provide for themselves, taking action can divert your mind from your own suffering and worry. Besides that, it will bring you feelings of peacefulness to know your actions are positive rather than inactive.
Another suggestion is to express yourself and allow your feelings to escape your mind and body. Talk to your friends and family about your experiences and seek comfort in their responses. If you feel too inhibited to share, then take a look at these interview questions below, while taking time to answer them for yourself. Give yourself time to really think and express your thoughts on these subjects, and try to write your feelings down. Even if you can’t bring yourself to verbally express your emotions, sometimes the written word is enough and will suffice. Copy and paste the following interview questions and answer them. Delve into your emotions and experiences and allow them to flow. Share them if you wish. I promise that your friends and family care about and are interested in your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes even written responses help soothe the soul.
In these ways, I was able to escape Fear Island.

Interview questions

Where were you and what was on your mind during the quake? After the quake?
At what point did you realize, “This is big.”
How did you react to the mainstream media?
How did you react to the local media from your friends and family?
How did you cope through the first few days? The next week?
What are your feelings now about the situation?
What messages do you have for your friends and family living outside of the situation? Inside the situation?
How did their reaction make you feel?
What have you learned from all this?
How has this changed you?
What advice can you share with others?

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