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Star Instructor Discusses the One Way We Can Change Society and Achieve Our Potentials (Part II)

Shinji Negi, former member of the Japan national wheelchair basketball team, has made “being friends with everybody I meet” a lifelong goal of his, and over the past 35 years, has visited approximately 3,600 schools (elementary/junior high/high schools, special education schools, etc.) to give talks and conduct workshops on parasports, for a total of 800,000 children. In Part I, Negi told us that “acknowledging a child’s taking on challenges, and praising them” is important for drawing out potential in children. In Part II, Negi discusses, through his very own ideas about friendship, what kind of changes would occur in society if everyone, including children but also adults, could learn to truly acknowledge each other.

As an instructor for the parasport workshop program “Asuchalle School,” Negi tells children about human potential through the lens of parasports (Photo from July 2016)

The Hidden Power of “Being Friends with Everybody You Meet”

――You’ve said your lifework is to become friends with everybody you meet. What is the thought behind that?

Negi: Earlier, in Part I, I told you about that talk I gave 35 years ago at the elementary school. I was trying to show off my wheelchair basketball and make that shot, but I just couldn’t get it to go in. But when I finally made that shot on my eleventh attempt, the kids all got excited for me, and cheered for me, and said, “Wow!” and “That’s so cool!” That was the moment I realized how much courage it could give you to be acknowledged and cheered on like that. And when I thought about how people in general could create that kind of relationship, that sense of mutual acknowledgment, I thought the best shortcut would be to become friends with them.

――That’s true. If we could think of everyone we see as our friends, we could acknowledge and support each other very naturally when we needed to.

A Wonderful Moment in the U.S., and the Beauty of Acknowledging One Another Naturally

Negi: I talk about being friends with people, but it’s not like you can build these deep friendships, all of a sudden, with everybody you meet. I did have one wonderful experience in the U.S., though, in terms of someone just acknowledging me in a very natural way.

One day, I was on my sports wheelchair heading to where the training camp was being held, and I was waiting on the sidewalk at a red light. And all of a sudden, this local woman started talking to me. She said, “Look behind you.” I had no idea what was happening, but then she said, “There’s a really amazing sunset, so look behind you.” And so I looked back, and just as she’d said, the sunset was very beautiful. I said, “Wow!” and she said, “It’s pretty, right?” Then, when the light turned green, she said, as if it were perfectly natural, “Want me to push your wheelchair across the street?” I answered, “I’m an athlete, so it’s okay.” We both crossed the street, but then as we split up to go in opposite directions, she said one last time, “That was a really wonderful sunset, huh?” And I couldn’t speak much English, but I was able to say, “You’re wonderful too.”

Despite me being a complete stranger, the woman had acknowledged my existence, and tried to tell me how beautiful the sunset was. And of course, because she was this kind of person, she was also able to offer very casually to push my wheelchair across the street. Isn’t that wonderful? Acknowledging people that are right in front of you, helping people that are struggling—these are things that really should be obvious, and that are really, truly wonderful.

Acknowledging Each Other’s Differences, to Create a Society Where Everyone Can Shine

Negi: When I found out I wouldn’t be able to walk anymore after the accident, I sort of went down a dark path, wondering how I was going to live, where I was going to find the meaning in life. But then, through wheelchair basketball, I was able to meet people that acknowledged me, and I was able to develop these bonds with my teammates. I felt enjoyment when those kids said I was cool, and I realized there were things that only I could do, that there were these moments where I could really shine. That’s why I decided to spend my life telling kids that everyone has moments where they can shine, and why I decided I had to compete in the Paralympic Games, to show these kids the sight of me shining. It took me 16 years to get there, but the only reason I was able to work that hard was because of the self-esteem and self-efficacy I developed from people truly acknowledging me.

Even with friends we get along with, there are differences in personality, things we find important, what we like, and what we struggle with. But if they’re your friend, you also know how they feel. When your friend’s having fun, you have fun. When your friend seems sad, you get worried, and you get sad too. When your friend is working hard, you cheer them on. Everyone’s different, but if we’re able to acknowledge each other’s differences, we can shine ourselves, and get others to shine as well. The idea of diversity & inclusion* is something that we’re pushing in Japan and throughout the world, but it actually isn’t a very difficult to accomplish. It’s essentially just about acknowledging each other’s differences.

That’s why I think being friends with everybody we meet will be the key to everyone—children, and everyone in society—being able to cultivate their individuality, and shine as their own person. And that’s what I’ll keep communicating now and into the future.

*Diversity & inclusion (D&I): Perspectives, thought processes, etc., that do not differentiate between factors like majority and minority, and that are inclusive of all different kinds of people

Negi visits schools throughout Japan, expanding his circle of friends on a day-to-day basis (Photo from July 2016)

———Many of the children who meet Negi at these talks and workshops tell their parents, “I’m friends now with Mr. Negi.” One time, Negi says, he received a report from one of the children that said, “I thought it wasn’t cool to be bad at something, so I gave up on this thing I wanted to do. But then I heard your story, and now I think I’ll work as hard as I can, and I won’t give up.” Now that they’re all friends, Negi’s words and his performance both on and off the court have given many children the courage they need, and drawn out their potential. His message, “be friends with everybody you meet,” has within it the belief that we could all be more courageous, take on new challenges, and create a society where each of us could shine, if everybody in the world were able to be friends with and truly acknowledge one another.

See here for Part I of this article
Star Instructor Discusses His Tips and Trick for Drawing Out a Child’s Potential (Part I)

Shinji Negi

Born in Nara Prefecture. Was involved in a traffic accident that left him with an injured spinal cord, and began using a wheelchair, as a third-year in high school. Began wheelchair basketball at the suggestion of an acquaintance, and served as the captain of the Japan national men’s wheelchair basketball team for the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. Has made “being friends with everybody I meet” a lifelong goal of his, and visits elementary/junior high/high schools, special education schools, etc., all throughout Japan to give talks and conduct workshops on parasports. Was recognized for his efforts in 2016, when he received the Minister of Justice commendation (Universal Society Award). Currently devoting himself to the realization of a “world where we can accept each other’s differences and achieve our full potentials,” using the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a catalyst to do so. Also serves as a member of the Executive Council for the Japanese Paralympic Committee.

Article about “Asuchalle School,” the parasport workshop program where Negi works as an instructor
Asuchalle School Goes to All 47 Prefectures: Workshop Held in Ehime, the Last Remaining Prefecture

text by Kaori Hamanaka(Parasapo Lab)
photo by Takeshi Sasaki

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