Finding Balance

Nick Kemp shares two perspectives to understand ikigai from Gordon Mathews' book: What Makes Life Worth Living?

Nick explains the two methods of ittaikan (commitment to group) and jiko jitsugen (self-realization); he thinks that finding a balance between the two will help people find significance in their lives.

I’ve read quite a few books on the subject of ikigai in both Japanese and English; of the English books, what I mean by that is by non-Japanese authors, there is only a handful. 

Some present, I guess what you call it, a personal perspective of ikigai; some present a romanticized notion of ikigai: that it’s from Okinawa and that it can be represented in this Venn diagram. 

Then one book I found really helpful on the subject of ikigai is this one by Gordon Matthews: What Makes Life Worth Living? How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds.

In this book, Gordon presents two perspectives or two ways to understand ikigai. One is ittaikan which would translate to commitment to group, and the other Jiko jitsugen, which is self-realization or self-actualization.

Now I’d life to quote from his book:

In short, while ikigai as ittaikan carries with it the premises that selves are most essentially their social roles, ikigai as jiko jitsugen carries with it the premise that there is an underlying self more essential than social role.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that for the Japanese, ittaikan or commitment to group could be most common; and that for Americans, or I guess to all the Western world, jiko jitsugen or self-actualization probably would be more important to our ikigai.

But I guess the beauty is: we can have both. So we can think about these two ideas: ittaikan, our commitment to group, our social roles, and how we can contribute to others, and then how we can go beyond our social roles and self-actualize or self-realize.

What’s interesting is Gordon talks about significance, and through these two mediums or methods of ittaikan and jiko jitsugen, we’re trying to find significance. So perhaps the challenge is finding a balance between the two.


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