OSAKA — People with disabilities may be considered weak, but they are often the ones giving comfort and strength to their caregivers, according to Kiyokazu Washida, a philosophy professor at Osaka University’s graduate school.
The 52-year-old, who has pioneered the field of “rinsho tetsugaku,” or clinical philosophy, in Japan, maintains that when so-called weak people do not hide their weaknesses, their caregivers are freed from the pressure to look and act strong.
“Weak people can give their caregivers the opportunity to release themselves from various social pressures and face their hidden weaknesses,” he said. “I’ve seen many cases where the relationship between care-recipient and caregiver is reversed. It is this relationship that heightens the quality of both their lives.”
Clinical philosophy in the United States and Europe deals with hospital and medical issues. But in Japan, Washida is trying to explore the possibility of bringing philosophy to ordinary people, not just the academic elite.
“As Japan imported philosophy from Europe, the translations of the texts are often difficult to understand, and those who study philosophy are just analyzing the texts’ contents,” he said. “But philosophy should be used to empower ordinary citizens.”
Washida is now tackling the issue of “care” in the belief that it will play an increasingly important role in a rapidly aging Japan.
“In an aging society, we will need to provide care not only in such places as hospitals and nursing-care institutions but also in various places within a community,” he said. “We should all understand what care is and acquire skills for caring for people.”
As an example of a mutual-care relationship, Washida points to a documentary film made in 1999 by Shinichi Ise depicting the everyday life of Shigeru Endo, who has severe physical disabilities, and the young people who take turns looking after him around the clock at his Tokyo home.
Although the young people have to help Endo, who has been bedridden for more than 10 years, with everything from eating to using the toilet, they appear calm and relaxed. To date, at least 1,000 young people have cared for Endo.
“I was glad to be here, as Mr. Endo listened to me attentively,” one of the carers wrote in a notebook that they circulate. Another wrote, “It was good that Mr Endo has difficulty speaking, because I can focus all my attention on listening to him.”
Washida said that people find their raison d’etre in their relationships with others — through knowing that someone needs them and realizing that they themselves have an interest in others.
The scholar also points to an entry made by Endo in his personal diary, stating that giving people problems is important. Endo reached this conclusion after suffering the emotional pain of not being able to do anything without assistance.
Washida explained that what is important is having a relationship so close with another person that one does not feel guilty about troubling that person.
But it is also true that providing care to others can cause hardship and problems. Nurses are often exhausted, and caring for an elderly family member often leads to the collapse of the family. Washida emphasizes that his analysis should not be used as an excuse for not addressing the mounting problems faced by caregivers.
“Through my own experience taking care of my parents, I fully understand the problems for those who look after others, and philosophy alone does not solve all of them,” Washida said.
“But it is important to give another dimension to the issue, as caring for others is a part of our everyday life, and each of us must find an appropriate way of relating to others through trial and error.”
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