I love this word. I cannot recall when I first heard it, but I remember that I had to look up its meaning and contemplate it for a while. Equanimity means steadiness of mind under stress. Synonyms for this word are serenity and aplomb.
I recall listening to the news coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I heard several stories about the calm demeanor of the Japanese people in the face of this national tragedy. The reporter was interviewing a Japanese man about the word gaman. Gaman is the Japanese word for acting with calmness and fortitude.
When I was still working in the corporate world, finding daily examples of equanimity and gaman were difficult. The rushed pace of work, the pressure and expectation to always perform at your highest level, the increasing complexity of problems to be solved, the disregard for the sometimes frailty of life made acting with any kind of steadiness or calmness a real challenge. All of this busy-ness creates an environment fraught with stress.
It’s no secret that stress-related health issues in the United States account for the majority of our nation’s healthcare costs. Let’s consider just two common health problems related to stress — heart disease and obesity.
In a recent report commissioned by the American Heart Association, the costs of heart disease in the U.S. is expected to triple between now and 2030, costing more than $800 billion a year. Yes, that is billion with a big ‘B.’ By 2030, it is estimated that 40 percent of U.S. adults will have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease. In contrast to the U.S., coronary heart disease incidence and mortality remain substantially lower at all ages in Japan.
No surprise here. Heart disease has been linked to longer work hours. No wonder every executive I worked around for the past 15 years was on blood pressure medication. One senior leader died of a heart attack at age 48. You would think that would be a big wake-up call, yet there was no change in behavior among leaders of the organization after this incident.
Stress has also been linked with obesity. Excess fat in the belly poses a greater health risk than fat on the legs or hips. And unfortunately, that’s where people with high stress seem to store it. Having excess weight in midlife increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes later in life. The U.S. ranks 1st in obesity with 30.6 percent of the population being obese. Japan ranks 29th with 3.2% of the population being obese.
I realize that there are other factors that contribute to the differences in stress-related illnesses between the U.S. and Japan. However, the very fabric of our culture, and especially our work culture, could learn a lot from the Japanese — a little more equanimity and gaman wouldn’t hurt.
WHO WE ARE
We are organizational development practitioners and training professionals with deep experience in both the corporate world and in the public sector. Lifelong learning is our passion.
We have experienced many transitions of our own, some intended and some not, and have found that each ending has always yielded a better beginning. This is one of them.