[VIEWPOINT]Leave Them Alone to Do Their Work

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[VIEWPOINT]Leave Them Alone to Do Their Work

Workers are busy finishing off some construction work at Botap temple in Jincheon, North Chungchong province, on a summer's day. An old man is focusing all his attention on handpainting the high ceiling. He is skilled in the art of dancheong - painting the decorative, colorful patterns onto the wooden eaves and beams of traditional Korean buildings.

He is absorbed with his work and sometimes skips meals and even sleep. Months of this hard work have worn him out, but when his co-workers suggest he take some rest, he says, "I don't want to. I am enjoying my job!" The old man takes great pleasure and pride in his work. If he did not, he could not have worked with such prolonged intensity.

One afternoon, he finally finishes painting the last section. Immediately after touching up a final spot, he collapses with exhaustion. He revives himself and looks up. How could one possibly describe his feelings! The feelings of pain and the pain of perseverance he has overcome, and the feelings of strength, satisfaction and pride he finally gains.

He sits down for a while, then slowly stands. He shakes hands with his co-workers and hands an envelope to the construction supervisor. "Here is the money left over from my work. Although I have worked on dancheong for my entire life, this is first time I have been able to work at my leisure, completely unhindered by others. I have no further wishes from my life, because I have been able to create this work on my own. Thank you very much for trusting me to do the job," the old man says. Then, he hurriedly leaves the temple.

The workers look at each other in surprise. They didn't even have a moment to congratulate him for a job well done. After the old man has disappeared, they recollect themselves and open the envelope, finding 18 million won ($13,700) inside. He had used only a small portion of his advance to buy materials and had not taken anything for the job.

It is not easy for us to understand the old man, but I feel I have a glimpse of what he felt. In Korean society, where everyone claims to be an expert, it is never easy to trust someone to complete a job as he sees fit.

The old man must have felt touched when the supervisor said, "Do this job as you see fit," and waited for him to complete the work without meddling.

We have a strange habit of not trusting the words of experts, because we are confident that we know just as well. This propensity comes from our sense of self-sufficiency, originating from our history as an agricultural people. Although we may not have in-depth knowledge about a subject, we still feel qualified to meddle.

We often find similar incidents in hospitals. Many people do not trust doctors, and ignore their advice, only to return to hospital later with aggravated symptoms.

There is even a saying in Korean that "it is impossible to design your own house on a roadside," because of the incessant "suggestions" of passersby.

Before commissioning jobs to others, whether it is dancheong or medical treatment, we should take time to make the decision. We should carefully consider the various qualifications of the candidate and then assign the job.

Once the decision is made, we should trust the person's specialized knowledge and techniques. We should wait until the job is finished.

Such a process, of course, sounds like common sense. Yet, in our society, that common sense does not always win. We have seen uncountable cases in which policies are continually tweaked, wrangled over and modified before they have had a chance to effect an outcome.

The old man had worked on dancheong for his whole life, but was touched because someone let him do the job as he pleased. He was trusted to finish his job and given the freedom to do it well.

This principle can be applied in many areas, especially in this era, the era of the specialist.


The writer is a psychiatrist at Kang Buk Samsung Medical Center.

by Lee Si-hyung

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