This week the Japanese whalers are all over the news again... The hunt, capture and kill (for "scientific purposes") are all recorded for us courtesy of the Sea Shepherd fleet. Why do they persist in the face of persistent and vociferous international condemnation?? I think I know the answer, and it's got nothing to do with whale meat, it's about managing change.
Japanese people don't eat whale - I was astonished to discover that large-scale commercial whaling is relatively new to Japan. Whilst some Japanese in coastal areas have eaten beached whales for over a thousand years, they only accelerated whaling in the 1950's to meet a drastic shortage of protein following WWII. Everyday eating of whale meat just isn't part of the Japanese culture. In fact research indicates that fewer than 5% of the population have ever even "tried" whale meat and 69% of Japanese don't support whaling in the Southern Ocean . So, what's the problem?
Japanese people DO eat sushi - A disproportionately high percentage of tuna and salmon is consumed by Japanese. They LOVE IT, and this love of sushi is very much a part of their culture, and has been for thousands of years.
Japan will protect their sushi culture to the nth degree - The Japanese government see international attempts at restricting their whale operations as the thin end of the wedge, the start of more and more calls to limit their consumption of their most treasured meats - tuna and salmon. Why would they comply? You can almost hear them thinking "If you take away our whales, next it will be tuna, then salmon and the pretty soon we'll be back to a large protein deficiency and a large part of our cultural identify will be lost". So.. that's why they resist this change with a passion, it's why they spend more than $12M per annum on "research".
We can learn some valuable stuff from this -
Have you ever wondered why people dig their heels in over seemingly trivial things, because of the "principle" of the matter?
On my Antarctica expedition I set up a team to organise a St Patricks Day celebration. A pretty innocuous event you'd say but I had one member on the organising team who was a complete naysayer. Every idea was shot down, poor body language, the whole she-bang.
I went up and spoke to him after the first meeting... "what's going on? You volunteered to help organise!". After a loooong conversation it turned out he was resistant because he was the earliest riser on our expedition, he would be faced with the empty beer cans, spilt popcorn and mess left behind from the night before. For him, it was unfair on principle.
There was a simple solution of course, but without addressing the issue head-on, digging deep into the reasons for resistance and uncovering the hidden fear the event could have been a disaster.
Change will only stick when people support it, and they will only support the change when their fears have been identified and addressed.