Japan celebrated Naomi Osaka’s historic victory over Serena Williams in the US open final on Saturday.

The crowd was firmly in favour of Williams. As loud whoops filled the stadium for the clear crowd favourite, all Osaka did was keeping her head down, and in the game. Rattling off winner after winner, even if Osaka herself was a bit rattled, she did not show it. Perhaps part of it was her Japanese heritage or maybe she’s born with it or maybe it’s all just Naomi.

All that said, I can see in Naomi her deeply rooted Japanese cultural values and virtues that emphasise modesty and humility.

Japanese culture is well known for its expectations of gracious social behaviour and etiquette. These norms are very important to the Japanese. Their politeness also extends to a deep sense of humility in the face of praise and accomplishment.

To outsiders, this humility can sometimes be perceived as being fake or bizarre reaction such as in apologising for her win. Naomi looks very natural and authentic. She has demonstrated consideration and restraint in victory, even though it could have been well within “normal” celebratory behaviour we regularly see in other fields of competition to do otherwise.

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka of Japan hugs Serena Williams of the United States after winning the Women’s Singles finals match of the 2018 US Open in New York

We all can learn to be competitive, yet gracious

One can argue how a progressive person or company or even nation can continue to create gracious society in this globally competitive environment.

So long as there is uncertainty and volatility in the world, our narrative will continue to be dominated by the need to draw comparisons to others and further improve our competitiveness. After all, we are but a vulnerable little red dot in an increasing volatile and uncertain world. But wouldn’t things be worse if we become an individual full of unkind and arrogant people?

In today’s competitive environment, some may think that there is no place for kindness in the ecosystem. Some think kindness is the sign of a pushover, someone easily exploited, who would simply give in or give up without a fight.

Nothing can be from the truth. Kindness is not softness. Being competitive is not incompatible with being kind and gracious.

Wholesome competition is a pleasure to experience when both parties respect each other and can accept both outcomes of being either a joyful victory or a gracious loser. Both parties, comprising experts in their own right, benefited from the knowledge exchange and skill sets demonstrated during the competition. Ultimately, the match is considered a win-win in self-betterment.

We all can learn a thing or two from the 20 year old’s serene demeanour from Naomi Osaka who managed to achieve something huge and yet still remain kind and gracious, humble and rooted.



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