[VIEWPOINT]Being good -- for better or worse

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[VIEWPOINT]Being good -- for better or worse

"What? Did I do something wrong? Did I have to watch the beautician make you look like some weirdo?" my sister yelled at her teenaged son, Beom-seo, as they returned from a beauty salon where he had his hair cut.

Beom-seo, my nephew, said nothing and sullenly tromped up to his room.

My sister explained that she had criticized a young beautician who was making a mess of her son's hair. The shop's owner overheard her comments, promptly dashed over and scolded the beautician, who had just started working at the salon. The girl ended up crying, and the shop's owner cut Beom-seo's hair.

Beom-seo, nevertheless, complained to his mother that she could have spoken to the beautician in a different way, nicer perhaps, and quietly enough so the salon's owner didn't overhear.

Beom-seo was concerned that his mother had hurt the young girl's feelings.

"How can a boy who is so sensitive survive in this tough world?" my sister shouted at Beom-seo upstairs. "It's you who makes the sacrifice, after all. You haven't changed since you were young."

As a boy, Beom-seo used to say that he wanted to be "a good person" when people asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

It could have been a child's thinking that doing good would always make adults satisfied and make them love him. And just like his dream, Beom-seo is growing up to be a good boy, thoughtful and considerate of others.

But that is exactly what worries my sister. She says Beom-seo always ends up losing and being used by others because he doesn't look after his own interests. She is concerned that her son's character is weak and that he will fail to succeed socially as a result.

In fact, when we use the word "good" in reference to a person, we normally associate it with certain characteristics.

To me, someone "good" is a person like Beom-seo who is generous, honest, friendly and understanding of the needs of others.

But we often use the word "good" to describe negative traits of people. For example, we say, "He is good, but he lacks perseverance." The use of the term "good" is a precondition to gauge the person's inability to survive in a competitive society.

When I hear the word "good," I am reminded of Jang Gi-ryeo, a doctor who left his wife in North Korea during the Korean War, and who lived alone for the remainder his life, providing medical services for the needy in his Seoul hospital.

In one interview, I recall, a reporter called Dr. Jang "a renowned doctor." Dr. Jang smiled bitterly and said to his interviewer, "I don't think it is that difficult to become a renowned doctor. The tricky thing is to become a good doctor."

Perhaps he was right, considering that being "a good person," who is relied upon and embraced by his friends, would be more valuable than becoming a renowned person who has achieved something great, accumulated a fortune or achieved social status in life.

But there are many people (like my sister, who does not appreciate her son's righteous character) who would rather become a renowned person rather than a good person.

As a result, we have too many people using opportunities to gain popularity to become prime ministers and presidents.

But what is the point of blaming others? As a teacher, I have more desire to become a "renowned teacher" than a "good teacher."

Just look at me sitting here, writing a newspaper column, when I haven't even prepared for tomorrow's class.


The writer is a professor of English literature at Sogang University.

by Chang Young-hee

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