[NOTEBOOK]Giving a compliment not so easyThe famed investor Warren Buffett was cited by Forbes Magazine for maintaining an amicable separation from his wife, Susan. Since their separation in 1978, the couple have shared views, worked for social causes and international projects, and they "speak of each other glowingly."
Not long ago, an experienced lawmaker left his political party with harsh words for the party and its candidate for president. The language he used －－ the primitive crudeness of his rhetoric －－ made one feel sadness for the man. The separation would have been a lot classier if he had said, "The five years I spent with this party was meaningful in many ways, but I realize I have to go a different way because we have a difference in views."
Koreans in general are notoriously stingy with compliments. This is a world apart from the culture of some other advanced countries where people feel almost compelled to create heroes and superstars, and where there is an overflow of compliments.
People in Korea have a tendency to try to knock a person down a notch if he happens to be particularly good at something, or is on a winning streak. With that kind of tendency, people who command great respect are an endangered species.
The circuitry of the Korean brain might be charged with a surplus of negative currents, perhaps the remnant of feudalistic self-deprecation. But the World Cup matches in June did a lot to change that negativism. Korea during that month showcased the possibilities for better things when compliments reached an almost infectious level. The order and good citizenship displayed then was made possible by the compliments generously displayed in the media. If the media had instead focused on isolated disorder and trash being left behind on certain street corners, then all the good deeds would have gone unnoticed.
Ken Blanchard, a management consultant, describes the magic of compliments in his book "Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships." He parallels the act of giving compliments to the spectacular performances of killer whales at exhibitions, hurling their 3-ton bodies 3 meters above the water. The whale trainers are never shy about complimenting the mammals by stroking their bellies. When the whales take a wrong turn, the trainers ignore the mistake and quickly move on to the next part of the show.
Mr. Blanchard says people are inherently stingy with attention when someone has done a good job but are quick to spot faults or criticize. Whether at home or at work, personal success, he says, hinges on finding the good in people and their accomplishments, and being generous with compliments.
There are more than a few cases of people whose lives were changed with compliments from parents or teachers. There are studies that show that children who grow up receiving compliments often are at the top ranks of intelligence.
Fortunately, there are signs in Korea that compliments continue to be paid. Posco, Chohung Bank, Kyobo Insurance, Korea Life Insurance, Hyosung Corp. and Pizza Hut are among the companies now participating in a joint campaign, with an accompanying Web site, of giving compliments for good deeds done. The campaign has reached the National Assembly, with Grand National Party lawmaker Hwang Woo-yea complimenting Millennium Democrat Kim Keun-tae. The National Council of Youth Organizations in Korea has gotten involved with its own campaign for recognizing young people who have shown exceptional conduct.
During the local elections in June, activities by Power Vision 21, comprised of people in their thirties and forties, left a positive impression along campaign trails. Their slogan was "Compliment the opposing candidate." Forty-three of the 97 candidates endorsed by this organization went on to win, perhaps as a result of positive campaigning.
During this presidential election, voters would like to see candidates who are not only willing to criticize others when they deserve it, but also mature enough to cite their good points.
* The writer is the life and leisure news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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