[FORUM]Giving makes the temperature riseSince terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, there have been many discussions on the social and psychological impact of the attacks. According to a recent article in Newsweek magazine, since the attacks, blood donations have tripled in the United States, and the number of visitors to volunteer service centers has increased 50 percent.
But all the changes cannot be seen as positive: Doctors have written 18 percent more prescriptions for anti-depression drugs compared with last year, and sales of Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey have soared 17 percent.
People seem to become more socially active when they are afraid. A recent survey shows that 6 out of 10 people in the United States have donated to charity or volunteered for community service during the last few weeks. And 8 percent of those polled said they spent money during the Thanksgiving Day holiday to help boost the U.S. economy. The terrorist attacks have given Americans a common cause and restored a sense of community.
We Koreans have had similar experiences. When the financial crisis happened four years ago, people responded positively to a campaign to sell their gold to the banks and also rushed to deposit dollars hidden in their homes. Koreans were of one mind － overcome the crisis. But today's social atmosphere is much different from what it was four years ago.
The political leaders seem indifferent to the suffering of common people, spending precious time in political wrangling and competing for the presidential nomination. Amid the economic slump, unemployment among the young has become very serious, and the number of homeless persons is increasing.
The income gap between the poor and wealthy is another serious problem. The income of the upper 10 percent of workers is more than nine times as large as that of the lower 10 percent, according to a recent government survey.
But there is hope. If we look around our neighborhoods, we can find beautiful people who make us feel that our society is warming even in the cold winds of December. We should not give up hope.
The 8th National Volunteer Festival held by the JoongAng Ilbo shows that grass-roots volunteerism flourishes in Korea. Some 17,000 institutions and 1.5 million people took part in the nationwide volunteer festival held in October. The program was organized by family members, regional units, companies and schools to take care of the needy. Dungjihoi (The love's nest), which was awarded top honors for volunteerism during the festival, was started 12 years ago by several workers in a company in Pohang, North Gyeongsang province.
Dungjihoi, which now has 40 members, including people who live in the area, collected 40 million won ($31,400) to build a house for six elderly men and the disabled. From blueprint to completion, they built the house by themselves. In another case of giving, an unidentified man who over the years has placed 1 million won in the Christmas kettle of the Salvation Army without saying a word appeared again this year in the Euljiro subway station in downtown Seoul. "Love Neighbor" are the only words written on the envelope containing the donation.
A man in his 40s who donated 1.2 billion won to the South Gyeongsang provincial office last year for scholarships for poor students recently made another donation of 300 million won, saying he will donate 300 million won every year until the total reaches 5 billion won. Because of his generosity, three student from the area are studying information technology in India.
The "Temperature Tower of Love" was set up in front of Seoul City Hall on Dec.1 by the Community Chest of Korea, an organization that tends to the needy. If the organization collects 42.6 billion won in two months, the temperature will reach 100 centigrade. A one centigrade rise requires 426 million won. But the thermometer has stood at zero centigrade for about 10 days. The thermometer hit 93 degrees last year. The staff at the organization worry whether their goal can be met amid the economic dip.
If we share love, our hope grows. When the temperature rises, our society becomes healthier and hope blooms.
The writer is the chief social news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo
by Han Cheon-soo