[OUTLOOK]Shedding tears for the dispossessed

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[OUTLOOK]Shedding tears for the dispossessed

There was an article in the newspaper about a meeting of recent college graduates who are unable to find jobs. One person said he felt a mixture of envy and admiration for the people he met on the streets at lunchtime with company passes hung around their necks. “I wouldn’t mind the full subway trains during rush hour if I could just become one of them,” another person said. According to a recent report on unemployment, the retirement age in certain companies has gone down to the 30s. There also are millions of people who cannot pay their credit card debts and fear bankruptcy.
Had these people heard President Roh Moo-hyun’s interview on television a few days ago, they would have been terribly disappointed. “There is no place in the world as hopeful as Korea,” he said. “In the past, the economy has never contracted because there was fierce political competition.”
Are these the words of a president who understands his people’s suffering? What country does the president live in? In truth, all this hullabaloo about politics, illegal campaign funds and hunger strikes by politicians is of as much interest to these desperate people as developments in a distant country. These people might have felt betrayed by the president.
The social class that voted for President Roh in last year’s election is probably the one that is suffering the most right now. Those people voted for him because they thought he would understand the position of the weak. They thought the president, who doesn’t have a college education, would understand the tears of isolated and poor people. When the economy encounters hard times, it is the socially weaker class that suffers first.
The bad economy does not drastically affect those with wealth, such as the jaebeol. Those who receive monthly salaries from their companies don’t experience the hardships of an economic recession. Those who shed tears are the poor and those too weak to hold on, those who don’t even have an opportunity to earn a pittance of a salary. Of course, should the situation continue much longer, the suffering would expand, reaching into the higher levels of society.
It is ironic that those who expected protection from President Roh are those who are being pushed aside first during these hard times. Is President Roh shedding any tears for these people? I believe a leader should have many tears. I don’t mean those of victory and celebration among those who share his “code.” I mean the tears shed in secret, thinking of others who are crying because they are suffering.
How cold the victims of last summer’s typhoon, who are still living in makeshift housing, will be this winter. How desperate parents must feel when their sons and daughters with unremarkable grades run about frantically seeking colleges that will accept them during the college application season. How hopeless young people who are still roaming the streets despite numerous attempts to find a job must feel. We need a leader whose eyes are always filled with tears for all those who suffer, even if he never meets them.
A heart that cries is not created through poverty. In fact, memories of an impoverished past can dry up the source of tears. Why have politicians been continuously involved in conflict since the new government was launched almost a year ago? Why are street demonstrations becoming more and more violent? Why is our society splintering more and more? Hatred and rage grow, while tears run dry.
Howard Hongju Koh, a professor of international law at Yale Law School and assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Clinton administration, grew up in a comfortably well-off family. All his brothers and sisters graduated from prestigious universities in the United States. His parents always told their children that they should never forget just how lucky they were in their present situation and that the purpose of life was not to live for oneself but to work for others.
It is said that whenever Robert Kennedy ate with his young children, he prayed that they would not forget just how lucky they were, because there were people at that very moment who were suffering from a lack of food.
It doesn’t matter whether one was well-off or poor while young. What matters is what one learns from the situation and what one’s attitude is. What is the state of mind of our political leaders whose interests are only focused on next April’s general elections? If their tears haven’t run dry, we still have hope despite the difficult times. Their tears will become our comfort and give us strength to rise again. But if their purpose in participating in politics is hatred and rage, we have no hope. We would find even more difficult times to come.

* The writer is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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