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Kikubari: Lessons from Joplin, Missouri and Japan

Kikubari - rubble

Kikubari, translated into English, means any of the following:

  • To be other-centered.
  • To give
  • To focus on those around you, not yourself
  • Think of others
  • Be selfless, not selfish

Last summer I had the honor of speaking at a conference attended by over 2,500 independent pharmacists.  Just before I spoke, a married couple ─ both of whom were pharmacists ─ addressed the audience.  They talked about how the pharmacy they owned had been completely destroyed during the tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri on May 22.  More important was their story of how the community came together during that tragedy; strangers helping strangers, people risking their lives to reach out to their neighbors, everyone pitching in.  Within a week, this couple was able to throw together a makeshift pharmacy, in a temporary location.  They then worked feverishly to provide vital prescription medications to their community.

While choking back tears, they told the audience about the many people who had pitched in to help them rebuild their family business.  They couldn’t have done it alone.  Although they didn’t use the word, they were the beneficiaries of Kikubari.

I first learned this word almost 40 years ago, as a teenager, when I started studying the Japanese language.  It is a truly fascinating word.  It is made up of two characters from the Japanese alphabet known as kanji.  There are literally thousands of kanji characters and each one has a meaning … this is not a phonetic alphabet.  Here are the two kanji words that, when put together, make up the combined word for kikubari:

Ki means “energy,” or “power.” Kubari means “to distribute,” “pass out“ or, “to give.” Together, they mean exactly what that couple from Joplin, Missouri experienced when they, with the help of their community, rebuilt their business from a pile of rubble.  This is Kikubari.

The people of Japan live and breathe the concept of Kikubari every day.  Why do you think there was no looting in the areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that recently jolted Japan?  This is Kikubari.

What do you do that equals Kikubari?  Don’t wait for a disaster, start today.