Thursday, November 05, 2009

colorful logic

We know there is no scientific proof that blue lights will help deter suicides. But if blue has a soothing effect on the mind, we want to try it to save lives.

Keihin Railway spokesman, Osamu Okawa on the decision of the East Japan Railway to spend about $165,000 to install blue lights at all of the Yamanote line stations in an effort to soothe and reduce the suicide rate among passengers, as reported in this morning's New York Times.

Suicides in Japan are trending upward and are expected to exceed the 2003 record of 34,427 deaths. Six percent of Japanese suicides are committed on the rail lines.

Posting this because I was struck by the tender sweet poignancy [1] of the East Japan Railway's action. The only indication that installing blue lights over platforms might have some impact is the assumption that the color blue has a soothing effect on people. There's no consideration given to context: is it the blue itself, or is it the sky, the ocean -- which happen to be blue -- that soothe?

Can blue lights in the close confines of the railway station soothe my troubled soul the way the wide open sky and the vast sea can place my problems in perspective and give me a reason to hold on a little while longer? Maybe not forever, but maybe for today?

There's no knowing, but lives are at stake, and the good people of the East Japan Railway are going to give it a shot.

[1] Yes of course: it's almost certain that revenue concerns are driving this action as much as compassion -- after all it costs a great deal of money to stop incoming trains and clean the tracks if the unhappy event occurs; comparatively, $165K may be a small drop in the bucket.

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