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[INSIGHT] Vision Is More Than the Ability to See

Dec 26,2000
Korean Leaders Could Learn From a Blind Man With True Vision
by Kwon Young-bin

Henry Grunwald was the editor in chief of Time magazine until the early 1990s. Born into a Jewish family in Austria, Mr. Grunwald became a respected journalist who worked his way up from copy boy to the editor of Time, a position he held for almost 20 years.

During a trip to Florence, Italy with his wife in 1992, he was pouring a glass of water, but for some reason completely missed the glass. After a series of thorough examinations, he was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that would ultimately render him blind. There is no known cure for this disease, which is caused by scarring of the macula, an area a quarter of an inch wide at the center of the retina, the eye's projection screen. At the time of the diagnosis, he was already legally blind in one eye, and his sight in the other eye was rapidly degenerating.

Mr. Grunwald had derived his greatest pleasure from reading and writing; visual activities had been an integral part of his life and work. He despaired but also accepted the inevitable, and began to think about things he wanted to do before becoming totally blind. Instead of trying to see what he had not seen before, he set out to pay more attention to what he was already familiar with: the faces of those he loved, foam breaking on the beach, squirrels scampering in the park, the moon hanging over the Empire State Building, and the bronze Degas sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He hungrily scrutinized the familiar sights through an ever thickening haze and tried to commit them to memory before they became more blurred.

As his vision increasingly diminished, forcing him to bid an excruciating farewell to the visual world, he began to explore the "art of seeing." In his autobiography "Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight," he stated, "Looking is not seeing. One has to see not only with eyes but also with imagination. One has to decide whether to see the forest or the trees."

This slim book about a retired journalist's struggles and trials as he slowly loses his sight is not simply about seeing, but also about living. It is more a story about gaining insight than the process of losing sight. In effect, his blindness made the vision of his mind's eye sharper than ever.

At this time of year, when numerous difficulties seem certain to give rise to even more pressing problems, I myself reflecting on the past year, and wondering whether I have seen and commented properly as a journalist. I am contemplating all that I have done, to see whether I had been suffering from blurred vision without even recognizing it. I am asking myself if I might not have looked out of only one eye, and mocked and blinded readers through my distorted vision. I am wondering if I have not seen the trees, and, if so, only through a haze, and failed to see the forest altogether.

I strongly recommend Mr. Grunwald's book to the politicians of this country, in hopes that they can gain insight into the problems of our society which they have often overlooked. Reading this book will be worthwhile if they were to spend even a brief moment reflecting on their failure to move an inch beyond what they have been familiar with for decades - delegating administrative power to cronies, biased personnel appointments, corrupt practices, confrontation and struggles. Reading this book will allow politicians, and indeed the whole nation, to reflect on whether they are not suffering from diminished vision and failing to see each other properly, and whether they are living as accomplices who cover up each other's shame.

Would we continue to think and act in the same way as before if we were to lose sight or have to give up political power in a few days? Would we continue to live so carelessly and irresponsibly as before if the companies we work for and the nation's economy were to become bankrupt in a few days? Isn't it time for the entire nation, from the president down to every citizen, to think introspectively about whether we are suffering from a serious, ongoing social loss akin to the loss of sight? A loss so severe that we cannot neither see properly nor talk about or devise proper solutions to our problems?

A political leader has to be like a Buddha who rescues mankind with his thousand hands and thousand eyes. A leader has to have keen insight and sharp spiritual eyes, not simply eyes that look but do not see. Failing to read the minds of the people, only looking and counting numbers of parliamentarians, and arguing endlessly about the politics of power, conspiracy and openness?hese are the symptoms of a political macular degeneration in the terminal stages. Politicians who fail to see a political crisis as a crisis are suffering from severely diminished vision, as are the economic bureaucrats and businessmen who fail to see an economic crisis as a crisis.

With two years remaining before the end of the current administration's term, Korea's political leaders face the task of finding the cure for the blindness afflicting every sector of the society, and of reading the minds of the people with keen insight.

The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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