Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two Futures Await

I mentioned in last week’s blog entry my feeling that this time of year is a phase transition.  Our thinking as a society is shifting back and forth between thinking about the past, producing lists like “The 10 Best Moments in Baseball in 2013,” or looking toward the future, where we do things like write down our resolutions for the coming year.  
I’m doing a lot of thinking about the future.  The only problem I’m having is trying to figure out which future I should be thinking about.  
The Japanese have two words for the future.  One is pronounced “shourai,” and is written in Chinese characters, or kanji, like this: 将来.  The first character, 将, means “command,” and is used in words like shogun, the title of the military ruler of Japan during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.  
The other Japanese word for the future is pronounced “mirai,” and is written in kanji like this: 未来.  The first character in mirai, 未, means “not” when used as a prefix.  You find it in words like mikon (未婚), which means “unmarried,” or michi (未知), which means the “unknown.”  
The breakdown of these two words should make the differences in meaning clear.  Shourai is used to describe the future you command.  When I say to someone, “Next August I’m going to London for WorldCon,” I am talking about shourai.  This is the future we see for ourselves.  It is the future we expect.  It is the future that we’re working for.  “I’m going to work on Monday,” or “I’m visiting my uncle on Christmas.”  This is shourai.
Mirai, on the other hand, is the future we don’t know.  There may be a meteor or comet heading toward the Earth right this very moment.  One that will hit the planet and devastate all life upon it, in about seventy-five years.  But we don’t know that now.  That is mirai.  
I try to keep myself aware of mirai.  It comes  out in odd ways.  Sometimes, when saying good-bye to people at work, someone might say something like...
“Have a good weekend!  See you Monday!”  
My mirai influence reply might come out something like...
“Sure...  If I don’t get hit by a bus or something, I’ll see you Monday!”  
People react negatively quite often when I give these mirai oriented answers.  
These days at work, I’m focusing on installing a new production process.  I have phone meetings with field agents, instructing them on how to process their work.  I read error reports from the network and send emails to our IT people looking for answers.  I review and test files to make sure the system we’ve set up works as expected.  These are shourai moments. 
But then, from off to the side, questions will come at me.  Have I oversold this procedure to my bosses?  Is my plan based on assumptions I don’t recognize as flawed?  What if it only makes a marginal difference in our speed and efficiency?  Or worse, what if it somehow makes things worse?  How will I explain that to my bosses after close to nine months of development?  
That is mirai tapping me on the shoulder, then turning away to whistle to itself as if it wasn’t really there.  
I think that most of our lives is an effort to somehow twist mirai into shourai.  It’s sort of like training a tiger to do circus tricks.  You get the beast to stand on the ball and walk it around the ring, and then when you turn to the audience to take your bow, it rakes its claws across your back and rips out your spine.  
Hmm...  I don’t know I like that analogy.  It works, but I don’t know if I like it.  
The problem is this, though...  By its very nature, mirai is not something we can plan for.  If you knew it was coming, if we knew about the big meteor coming to smash us in seventy-five years, knew it for certain, it would become shourai.  Something we could plan for?  Something we could do something about, or at least brace ourselves for.  Mirai is always right around the corner, ready to say “Boo!”  
Here is the tricky part.  For me at least.  I can see a logical way through this, but it stems from a way of thinking I am not used to.  I’ll give it a try, though.  
Maybe I’m being a bit too hard on mirai.  The examples I’ve given are all pretty negative.  The unknown is scary.  We, or at least I, assume the worst.  
But “unknown” is not synonymous for “bad.”  
Mirai could also be going to the party you didn’t really want to go to and meeting the person of your dreams.  It could be finding a hundred dollar bill as you walk down the street.  
Excuse me if I don’t come up with a whole list of good mirai.  As I indicated, I’m not used to thinking that way.  
My final conclusion?  I think I should just let mirai be.  Mirai is going to make its appearance know, one way or the other.  It will take all my little shourai plans and smash them into little bits.  Or bend them to the point where I’ll have to work three times harder to fix them.  Or even make them meaningless.  My only hope is to deal with mirai as best I can and continue to take command of it when I can.  I just have to deal.  
At least that is what I’m planning on doing for the future.   


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