Just in case, better wear a red tieSuperstitions exist everywhere, in every culture. In Western cultures, for instance, the number 13 often has negative associations. In Korea, the number four, or sa, takes on that role, because one of the Chinese characters that sound like “sa” means “death.” This is why many buildings in Korea have no fourth floor ― the “fifth” floor is directly above the third.
Even in today’s supposedly rational world, the mystical power of jinxes seems to be undeterred ― or, at best, it may have taken on new forms while exercising just as much influence.
Dr. Choi In-cheol, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, believes that jinxes and superstitions thrive in areas of life that have some element of chance, but aren’t completely ruled by it. “If it’s something that cannot be achieved 100 percent by ability, or cannot be decided 100 percent by luck, than that’s a case where most likely a jinx occurs,” he says.
Professional fields in which performance can be measured right away sometimes seem to have more superstitions than other fields. “Professional athletes are really into this. I would say that out of 10, about eight believe in that sort of stuff,” says Shin Dong-sung, a researcher at the Seoul Olympic Sports Promotion Foundation’s science laboratory.
Kang Ho-dong, a TV personality and former ssireum wrestler, says that in his playing days he made sure he kept in line with the sport’s accepted superstitions. “Before a match I would never cut my fingernails,” remembers Mr. Kang. “Never.”
Not that this is true of all athletes. Yeo Heung-cheol, a former gymnast who is now a professor at Kyung Hee University, says gymnasts tended not to hold to such superstitions.
“Unlike ball games, where so many non-player factors can affect the game, in gymnastics it’s one’s own body that performs a certain technique, and that’s what I think made us less vulnerable (to superstitious thinking),” says the professor.
The JoongAng Ilbo ―located, incidentally, in a building with no fourth floor ― recently surveyed 125 office workers at 16 companies and government agencies, all of whom were in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Forty-four said their daily lives were influenced by some sort of “jinx.”
For instance, one employee at KTB Networks, a venture capital firm, believed that losing a shirt button was a prelude to bad things. In the financial industry, in which a rise in the stock index is marked in red and a drop is marked in blue, some fund managers seem preoccupied with color. A senior manager at Kyobo Securities confessed that he tries to wear underwear only in shades of red.
Are Koreans more inclined to be superstitious? Dr. Choi’s answer: Probably. “Korean society has many regulations and restrictions which are emphasized by the society,” he said.
Dr. Seo Kyeong-ran, a psychiatrist, explains that jinxes have positive as well as negative meanings. “If a certain jinx is thought to bring bad luck, one becomes careful in doing things, which helps prevent things from actually going bad. So in that aspect it isn’t such a bad thing to have a jinx,” he said. However, Dr. Seo said, if anxiety over a jinx is too strong, that can cause problems in itself.
Many people, of course, would argue that all this is much ado about nothing. So the JoongAng Ilbo tried to find out what happens when someone ignores his own personal jinx.
Professional computer gamer Lee Yoon-yeol, who is currently ranked at the top of the Starcraft League, is known not to cut his fingernails before a big game. At the JoongAng Ilbo’s request, on Jan. 31, Mr. Lee cut his fingernails and went to work against 15th-ranked pro-gamer Na Do-hyeon.
Lee Yoon-yeol lost the game. Although he emphasized that his loss had nothing to do with his jinx, he added that he would not cut his fingernails before a game again.
Kim Seong-il, a professor of educational psychology at Korea University, argues that people who believe in jinxes tend to look for examples of misfortune to blame on them. If one were to consistently keep records over a long period, the professor said, the data should reveal that there was no rational reason to believe in the superstition.
Another person who challenged his own jinx was Chang Seong-min, a former lawmaker and official of the Millennium Democratic Party. Mr. Chang has a habit of wearing a red tie whenever he makes an aggressive announcement.
At a press conference Sunday, Mr. Chang wore a purple tie as he demanded that President Roh and the chairman of Our Open Party, Chung Dong-young, be investigated over campaign funds. But other political stories drew attention away from the press conference.
“For politicians, the image is very important. I guess I have to stay with red,” Mr. Chung said afterwards.
by Pyo Jae-yong, Lee Kyong-hee