Is Sisyphus happy?
Magda Yukari Hagiya Corredo (B3)
Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure, was condemned to the eternal task of rolling a boulder uphill, only to watch as it rolled back down once he reached the top. Rinse and repeat. As a child, I was fascinated by everything mythological, but this story, in particular, always terrified me. The futility of it all, the wasted effort, it sounded devastating, and I could not picture a worse punishment. As I grew older, this story lost its edge in my mind, but it wandered back in occasionally; on the bus ride to school, during physical education, I thought that perhaps I understood Sisyphus a tiny bit. Very dramatic, as teenagers tend to be.
As the time came to consider college, and career paths, I was drawn to the humanitarian field. It stood in stark contrast to other options in business, for example, where work is solely dedicated to profit margins. The boulder goes up, only to roll back down. In the humanitarian field, however, I saw an opportunity to make a difference, something meaningful, even if only on a micro-scale.
I was fortunate to learn more about international and humanitarian law in Professor Fujii’s seminar and obtain hands-on experience on these subjects through activities such as the moot court and roleplay competition hosted by the ICRC. I was also able to start my internship at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the communications unit. The UNHCR is an organization that works to support and protect the rights of refugees, displaced persons, and those forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution, violence, or disasters. As the Ukrainian crisis and the recent Turkey-Syria earthquake have demonstrated, the work of humanitarian organizations has become vital to respond to emergencies such as these. The communications unit is responsible for increasing empathy towards the plight of refugees, as well as awareness of not only international cases but local ones too. This is done by using UNHCR’s social media presence, through conventional media, and similar vehicles to first obtain recognition from the public and, subsequently, increase interest and empathy.
This year is a big one for Japan and refugee advocacy, as the Global Refugee Forum is being held at the end of the year, with Japan as a co-convenor. Having had the privilege to see how hard everyone is working to leverage this opportunity has been extremely inspiring, and learning from the people at UNHCR has been an invaluable experience.
Despite the positive prospects, there have also been setbacks, such as the proposal of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that has been barely changed from the one scrapped two years ago due to heavy criticism, and which would heavily impact those applying for asylum in Japan. It appears that regardless of how much work is done to progress, something always pushes us back. Japan is no exception when it comes to the growing animosity towards migrants and refugees. As waves of anti-immigration rise in the US, Europe, amongst other countries, the image of Sisyphus rolling his boulder flashes in my mind once again. My experience is extremely limited, but I imagined that working in the humanitarian field can also feel, in its way, like rolling a boulder up a hill. There is always a new crisis and more people are unjustly being made destitute.
As I considered what I would like to do in the future, and as news, good and bad, continued to roll, I think of all the people working towards saving lives and improving horrific situations, the people leaving places better than how they found them. Camus argued that life is absurd, much like trying to give meaning to Sisyphus's task, but that non-acceptance of this absurdity is a way to happiness. For Camus, the absurd is a much more complex and existential subject, but for now, I believe that making a difference, even is small, even if reversible, is a good enough reason to pick up the boulder once again. In Camus’ words, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”.