Anime Virtues: Quiet Confidence

Some characters in anime provide good examples of quiet confidenceI’ll admit it’s odd to associate quiet confidence with anime. After all, anime teems with loudmouthed, impulsive heroes. However, if you look beyond protagonists, you will see the strongest type of confidence: quiet confidence. Why do I consider this type of confidence the strongest type? Well, confidence describes the state of being self-assured and comfortable with who you are. This lets you act decisively and stand up for those decisions. Most people in the United States associate confidence with ego. Ego has little to do with true confidence. Ego involves a self-focused world view.

Egotistical people look at their selves and what they can prove, achieve, or gain. In many cases, this involves being loud or opinionated (like my articles on JP!) in order to draw attention to themselves. This proves their self worth. Confident people lack the desire prove themselves. They don’t need to. That isn’t to say all loud people lack confidence. Personality types play a role. Loud confidence proclaims a goal to others. It doesn’t necessarily seek to feed to ego (but it can), but rather to combat the disbelief others have for them. Look at Naruto. He loudly proclaims he will become the leader of the Leaf Village. He announces this as a way to combat the stumbling blocks in his way. Many resist his goal, so he challenges them with his announcements. This isn’t to prove he can achieve his goal as much as a method of moving forward with that goal. His antagonists see his statements as bluster and disregard him. And this disregard leaves them open for him to attack their expectations and beliefs.

We struggle to tell the difference between loud confidence and egotistical bluster. Not to mention loud confidence gets annoying fast. Quiet confidence, on the other hand, is non-combative. It doesn’t challenge. It prefers to be its own thing. The quietly confident don’t talk about goals. They do them. They skip the combative stage of the loudly confident. The quietly confident fly below the radar and work against the noisy norms of modern society. Because of this, quiet confidence is mistaken for being passive, submissive, and weak. Quiet confidence resembles water. As Bruce Lee states:

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.

Water appears passive and submissive, but it is not. It can cut steel when focused. Quiet confidence shares this power. Jesus spoke of the quietly confident inheriting the world. He used the word “meek,” which is read today as being a doormat. But meekness is a state of humble confidence in ability, your own and God’s.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

One of anime’s best examples of quiet confidence also comes from Naruto–Hinata. At first, Hinata lacks confidence altogether. She doesn’t begin her journey until Naruto inspires her with his loud confidence. You see, quiet confidence needs watered to grow. Naruto shocks her inner seed, but Hinata must water it. And water it she does throughout the series. Hinata lacks the physical power of Naruto and others, but she has her own inner strength. Several times throughout the series she takes on challenges she cannot hope to best. She does this to protect Naruto and others she cares for. It takes confidence to face certain defeat. In fact, it takes more confidence to face certain defeat than a reasonable chance at victory. She must have confidence in her beliefs–and her faith in Naruto–to risk her life time and again. Yet, you don’t see her flaunt her confidence. She remains soft spoken compared to her comrades.

Mild spoilers ahead. Later on in the story, her quiet confidence provides an anchor for Naruto. When he loses his confidence early in the story, when he has to fight Hinata’s powerful cousin, she helps him rekindle his flame. Late in the story, she becomes his partner in life and in combat. During the Fourth Shinobi World War, she encourages Naruto’s confidence after many of his allies die, and she also fights beside him, sharing some of his chakra. She grows into quiet confidence through her faith in Naruto and her faith in herself.

How Do You Develop Quiet Confidence?

Hinata doesn't have confidence at first. If you watch Hinata’s progression, she moves from a quiet, shy girl who doesn’t think much of herself to a quiet, confident woman who is willing to risk her life to protect those she loves. The journey to quiet confidence takes time. In American society, people mistake quietude for being a doormat. Quietude is a personality trait quite different from shyness. Shyness comes from a lack of self confidence–usually confidence about social skills. Quietude, on the other hand, values silence and words. Quiet people prefer to use words sparingly and meaningfully. A Zen saying comes to mind: “Do not speak unless it improves silence.” Quiet people feel secure in themselves and with silence where other people find silence uncomfortable. In fact, silence can be used as a weapon because so many find it uncomfortable. Typically. those people need silence the most. Silence allows us to order our thoughts and learn who we truly are, and that requires us to face our ugliness. Any wonder why most people today want to avoid silence and self reflection?

Okay, so quiet confidence requires us to use words sparingly and well. They should be used to uplift others or take a stand. Faith in your beliefs underpins confidence. You need to understand who you are and what you believe. Hinata understands she is far from being the strongest shinobi, yet this doesn’t stop her from making a stand for what she believes in: persistence and self-sacrifice for those she loves. Later in the series, she even gives up her career to be a mother and a sanctuary for Naruto when he needs to escape the challenges of his station.

Loud confidence often takes the lead. Quiet confidence takes a background role. In American culture, the background role appears to be inferior. However, an army can’t march and fight without background support. You see this with Naruto as well. Without Hinata’s background support and confidence in his abilities, he would have failed at key points in the story.

So how do you cultivate quiet confidence?

  1. Become comfortable with yourself. Learn your strengths and weaknesses and accept them.
  2. Learn to use words wisely. Speak less, but speak with more meaning.
  3. Learn to be comfortable with silence.
  4. Support others. Kind words of encouragement go a long way.
  5. Know what you believe in, why you do, and stand firm when challenged.
  6. Be patient. Confidence takes time to develop. It is a practice.

Knowing your limits and accepting them doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve. Hinata knows she cannot be as strong as her comrades, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to be as strong as she can be. Develop both your strengths and weaknesses, strive to be better rounded. Focus on your strengths in order to achieve mastery. Focus on your weaknesses in order to enhance your strengths. Most of all, be patient and gentle with yourself. I have a habit of being harsh and unforgiving with myself, and while it motivates me, it also grinds me down at times. You will have setbacks, but the effort (not the end result) matters.

Hinata develops quiet confidence throughout the seriesOften, we get too set on making it to some destination, and we forget to enjoy the journey. Some of my best experiences when I travel is the journey and it’s discoveries. When I visited a cavern system with my brother, for example, we stopped at a charming small town library and passed through about 15 different tiny towns. The caverns were nice, but I remember the towns and that library more fondly. If we had focused on our destination, we would’ve missed them. Personal journeys work the same way.

After a certain point, you will realize you have achieved quiet confidence without knowing it. But that doesn’t mean the process ever stops. As your roles in life changes, such as Hinata becoming a mother, the process will begin again.

Hinata provides a good role model for the shy and the quiet. She embraces her quietude but overcomes her shyness. She becomes the most important supporting character in the series. Because supporting roles enable to hero to do their work, she becomes one of the most important characters in Naruto. She also becomes the most important person in Naruto’s life. That is the strength of quiet confidence.

View of Sacred Bridge at Nikko

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). View of Sacred Bridge, at Nikko Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c92a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Anime Virtues: You Don’t Need a Reason to Help Someone

Bleach teaches several good moral lessonsStories shape how we view the world and how we treat other people. While I’ve gotten into anime too late in life for it to really shape my morality, it has changed how I think about some topics. In this article, I will pull from Zen and Christianity (and indirectly from Judaism) in addition to anime for my illustrations. Why just those two? Because that is what I am familiar with. They are my practice. While I’ve studied Islam and read the Koran, I don’t have enough knowledge to comment on how Islam teaches the morals we will cover.  Zen can be found throughout anime because of how Buddhism and Shinto have mixed in Japanese culture. Because JP is a blog, I can’t write in depth about either Zen or Christianity. That would take a book! (No, I don’t have one in the works on this topic. At least, not yet.) So in some virtues, I will have to simplify some of the explanations. I’ll do my best to keep to the core of it and also not make it too boring.

Although some would argue they already have the stories necessary to teach morality–the teachings of Buddha and Jesus for example–anime provides accessibility these stories often lack. Entertainment helps messages sink in and help with remembering them. For kids, Naruto inspires more than the usual depiction of a stodgy, bearded Jewish man (I don’t see Jesus as stodgy, far from it, but that is one of the traditional depictions). We might as well understand this appeal and use it.

Bleach contains many virtues such as loyalty, dedication, and community, but let’s look at the core moral found throughout Bleach: you don’t need a reason to help someone.   I am going to assume you are familiar with the anime, if not you can read a few of our reviews.  While Bleach has fallen in popularity, it still appeals to many people. A simple search on Google shows how fans are still making fan art and fan fiction.

The Nature of Suffering

Ichigo endures much to help his friends avoid sufferingThroughout Bleach, Ichigo and friends rush to help people in need. The need to protect people, not just family members and friends, drives the story. As Ichigo states:

I’m not superman, so I can’t say anything big like I’ll protect everyone on earth. I’m not a modest guy who will say it’s enough if I can protect as many people as my two hands can handle either. I want to protect a mountain-load of people.

But what does it mean to protect people? Sure, you work to keep them from being hurt, but it also extends to protecting them from suffering in general. The urge to avoid suffering and help others do the same comes naturally. Buddhism enshrines this idea in the Four Noble Truths: suffering hurts, suffering comes from clinging to things, suffering ends when we stop clinging, there is a way to stop clinging to things. The Four Noble Truths state suffering comes from how we view reality. Our expectations can’t be met by reality, therefore we hurt. If I would drop my favorite teacup–the one my girlfriend bought me for Christmas–and break it, my expectation that I will always have it would make me hurt. This is clinging.

In a larger sense, suffering comes from expectations driving people to hurt each other. For example, religious fundamentalism has a certain set of demands (expectations) that adherents force upon others. In most cases, the adherents can’t even keep the demands! But these shape how they view the world and creates suffering for both themselves and those they force. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam are all guilty of this at one time or another.

The Drive to Help

Ichigo is driven to help others, but he doesn't go looking to do so like Superman does.

Okay, let’s come get back to ground level. It’s natural to want to take away a loved one’s pain. It’s a virtue to want to take away a neighbor’s and an enemy’s pain. Bleach teaches this virtue is natural to being human. As Ichigo puts it:

I ain’t such a saint that I can promise to risk my life for strangers. Neither am I scum enough to sit quietly by while people are getting hurt before my eyes.

Normal people don’t go about seeking situations to risk their lives. However, good people also don’t stand aside when someone is getting hurt. Jesus spoke about this in the story of the Good Samaritan. Here’s the story, to refresh your memory (Luke 10:25-37 ESV):

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

 

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

 

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

 

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

 

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Let’s look at this story briefly. The people who avoided the beaten man were religious people: a priest and a Levite. Levites assisted priests in worship. As such, you’d think these men would stop to help someone in need. However, according to Jewish Law, touching a corpse would make them ritually dirty (Numbers 19:11). So to avoid this they passed by without checking on the poor man. Samaritans are a branch of Judaism that only accepts its own ancient version of the Pentateuch, or first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible. Without regard to his ritual purity, the Samaritan stops and helps the man. For the Samaritan, there wasn’t any hesitation toward helping the poor sod.

For Ichigo, what the Samaritan did is a natural action. The Samaritan didn’t go out looking for people to save, but he also couldn’t turn a blind eye. The fact we have these stories points to how we don’t follow this virtue. Protecting people underpins much of shonen, and it is equated with strength. In Ichigo’s case, it drives him to seek power. He wants to protect people from suffering. It takes inner strength to overcome selfishness and seek to help people. The greatest strength comes from when you realize you can’t protect everyone and the cost compassion demands of you:

Unless I grip the sword, I cannot protect you. While gripping the sword, I cannot embrace you.

Sometimes a person doesn’t need protection. Sometimes they need a listening ear and a hug. These moments of frustration test our fiber. Some enemies can’t be cut. The hardest moments come when the sword needs to be put down.

You Don’t Need a Reason to Help Someone

Ichigo provides a good human example of the fact we don't need a reason to help others.Throughout Bleach, Ichigo doesn’t need a reason to help someone. He simply does. In Buddhism, some people vow to become bodhisattvas–beings who are reborn until all living things escape suffering–just because they want to protect people from suffering. The Good Samaritan doesn’t ask anything of the man. He simply helps and goes on his way. We don’t need a reason to help other people. Of course, you could argue being human is reason enough. This virtue forms the core philosophy of Bleach and drives Ichigo throughout the story. He will go out of his way to protect friends and family. But he doesn’t go out of his way to help others. He doesn’t fly around like Superman to help all those he sees. In this, Ichigo is quite human. But when faced with suffering, he naturally seeks to help. This too is human.

Anime, like all stories, affect us. They shape how we view the world even though they are fiction. The dialogue we surround ourselves with everyday becomes our internal dialogue. While I write often about anime’s problems–fan-service, incest, harems, and the like–anime has many stand out messages. In fact, most shonen and shojo stories contain good messages. I’ve been beating up on harem stories, but many have a good heart underneath the antics and objectification of women (although objectification should never be overlooked). Anime like Pokemon prove time and again that the medium on the whole is better than the direction American TV (even children’s shows) has gone in terms of moral lessons. Perhaps I’m being biased and a prude, but despite anime’s problems I find it far more watchable than shows like Game of Thrones (I disliked the books). It’s possible to tell a gritty and dark story without falling into smut (Oops, there’s my prudishness again!).

In any case, helping people involves more than giving money. In fact, offering money to those in need can be the worst course of action. Ichigo and the Samaritan get personally involved. I’ll admit that I struggle with this virtue. I am standoffish and guard my personal time jealously. I have turned away from strangers in need. I’m present for those close to me, but I struggle with personally helping strangers. Virtues take time and work to cultivate. After all, it takes time for Ichigo to develop the power he needed to protect people. Striving matters.

Akakusa Temple at Tokio

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). Asakusa Temple at Tokio Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c922-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Violet Evergarden and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Violet Evergarden AnimeI’ve never received a letter. Most likely, you haven’t either. Our digital age killed letter writing with email and social media. Is it odd that I feel nostalgic toward letters? I spent a good bit of my teen years hanging out with WWII veterans. They told me of their excitement when they received letters from their girlfriends (most married and stayed together for 50+ years). Most still had the letters with the elegant penmanship of the time.

Seriously, it seemed everyone in the 1930s and 1940s had elegant handwriting. Of course, some letters weren’t for my gaze. Where else do you think the Internet got some of it’s raunchiness?

I remember the wives’ grins as they spoke of the anticipation and worry. They spoke of elation when the letter finally arrived, and how letter writing helped them fall in love over distance and time.

So when I saw the anime Violet Evergarden, I was all in. The story takes place in an alternative world during their World War I. The country falls into such dire need for manpower that they take to training war orphans. Violet is one such orphan. She becomes attached to her commanding office, who is a father to her. But during a mission he is wounded and she loses both her arms. When an artillery shell strikes the building they are in, they become separated. Violet survives and wants to find him.

One of the Major’s war buddies takes her in and arranges for her to have prosthetic arms. The arms work much like Fullmetal Alchemist’s automail. They are beyond the technology of the time, but I didn’t find it any more jarring than automail. Well, she begins work as an Auto-memory doll, women who write letters for people.

The new job requires Violet to travel around the country (setting up the anime’s episodic structure), and it requires her to face her brutality and suppressed emotions about herself and the war.

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

As you can guess, letters shape the main structure of the anime. Much is said about the power of letters in people’s lives. And from what I’ve seen with my now-passed friends, it’s true. Perhaps the Internet and the proliferation of immediate writing has blinded us to the power of writing.

When you think about writing, it is a miracle. I can write or type squiggles that put at least a portion of my thoughts into your mind. It’s like telepathy or mind-melding. But immediacy is the problem. As Violet Evergarden suggests, it takes time to perfect a letter. My friends admitted to taking time to draft a letter. It wasn’t something they dashed off. Even when it was, the act of writing with a pen on paper forced them to sort their thoughts in ways we can’t do with our keyboards.

You’ve seen how some of my blog posts here are garbled. That’s even after I re-read and revise. Good writing takes delay, and most of our problems online would dissolve if publish buttons didn’t immediately publish. We need a time delay–like the time it takes to write a letter with pen and paper–for online writing.

Most of my articles here wait in the queue for at least a few weeks before you see them. Some wait for months. This bit of time lets me approach them with a fresh look and gives me time to reconsider some of my touchier topics. Likewise, I believe social media posts, tweets, shares, whatever should have a delay timer. Perhaps 15 minutes. After you hit the publish button, the system will wait 15 minutes before asking you if you are certain you want to publish the post. This gives emotions a chance to cool, such as waiting for a letter gives some distance between replies.

The world Violet Evergarden paints unfolds slower than ours. I don’t want to cast the past in an ideal light–it had problems we do not have now–but the slower pace would do us well. We cannot slow down and savor in our instant world. I’ve written about how anticipating can help us enjoy anime better. Well, anticipation can help us enjoy our relationships better too. Letter writing and the waiting it requires allows us to slow down. In my own life, I find absence does make the heart fonder.

Violet from Violet EvergardenAbsence allows us to overlook people’s foibles easier. They aren’t so grating. In fact, we see this a bit in Violet Evergarden. Some of Violet’s coworkers chafe with her presence, but as she travels more, they begin to miss her. They also see her internal changes more clearly. That’s the rub. When you live around people daily, you become blind to them. It’s much like how you can drive the same street for years and never notice that small book shop.

While I’m a technologist in addition to be a librarian, I believe we need to unplug and slow down more. At least, I know that I need to do so. But it takes effort. Unlike Violet’s world, we have instant choices for communication. They are not wrong of themselves, but if you are like me, you don’t use them in healthy ways. I’ve mindlessly lost many hours in Facebook, Tumblr, and the Internet at large.

Letters have an intimacy that social media lacks. Handwritten letters are human. You can see handshakes in the writing, tears staining the page, excitement in the way the pen gouges the paper. Typed letters, particularly on a typewriter (Do you know how to use one? I had to write reports on mechanical typewriters) are a little less human, but they are still friendlier than a computer-printed page. Computer-generated text is just too perfect, too sterile. It lacks many of the human errors that give items life and character.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic here. Typing on a mechanical or even an electric typewriter can be a pain, especially if you are a poor typist like me. But the tactile feedback is wonderful.

Violet Evergarden is a great anime you should watch. It’s not without problems. Sometimes it lays the emotions on too heavily. Violet’s relationship with the Major sometimes feels more like a relationship with a lover than a father, leaving you feeling uncertain which the story wants to show.  But on the whole, I enjoyed the story, but I’m a sucker for Data-like (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) characters. You should also consider writing letters or, at the least, writing a journal. A journal is just a letter to the future you. Consider ways to slow down and unplug, even if it means watching less anime online.

View of Kanasawa

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). View of Kanasawa Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c9a5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99