[OUTLOOK]The frame sets the outcomeWhen I see the multitude of commuters rushing out whenever I ride the subway, I think of China. China has a population of 1.3 billion rushing about trying to make a living. What have we got that’s better than them? In terms of population and territorial size, China is over 20 times our size. How are we to survive if we don’t have anything better than them? If we don’t become several times better than them, we will find ourselves buried by the onrushing “sea of people.”
From my experience of having lived in the United States for a few years, it does not seem that the Americans work any harder than Koreans. Since the U.S. per capita income is three times higher than ours, one could suppose that the Americans work three times harder than Koreans. However, that is not the case. So how are Americans living better than us? Likewise, how come the laborers in less developed countries than Korea suffer more than us but still live in lesser conditions? Our history and tradition have always emphasized diligence as the biggest virtue but that did not save the Joseon Dynasty from crumbling.
I see this discrepancy as coming from the “framework” of the country. If you live in a country with a good framework, you naturally get to live a good life because of that framework and if you live in a country with a bad framework, no matter how hard you try, you’ll only suffer. It’s the framework of the country that’s important.
Within a good framework, you can live a first-rate life by just doing your job honestly day by day. Within a bad framework, an individual will always remain third-rate no matter how hard he or she tries.
The framework can be described as a mountain range. If a mountain belongs to the Himalayan range, it can become the Mount Everest or the Mana Parvat. If it belongs to the Baekdu Range that divides the Korean Peninsula into east and west, it can become Mount Geumgang or Mount Seorak. The mountains might all look the same within the range, but depending on which range they belong to, they become the highest mountain in the country or in the world. A mountain on a plain can only become the village mountain no matter how high it is. Mountain ranges are not made without due procedure. It takes a long time of accumulation. It takes generation after generation to pile the mountains.
We need to make our country into a country with a good framework. We need to make it into a country that can build mountain ranges. Tragically, what we are doing these days is breaking, and not building, our framework. We are busy undermining, and not piling, our mountains. We’ve heard about the importance of “clearing our past” for decades. Now, there is a demand that we should clear the issue of pro-Japanese sympathizers who collaborated with the colonial government some 60 years ago. This is not to say that we should accept these pro-Japanese activities. In looking back, we should consider what connection there is between digging up our past and building our future. We must consider how clearing up our past will help us to build a good framework for our country.
In order to build a good framework, one must get rid of all the rusty nails and twisted woodwork. Clearing the past should be a job of repairs. Just because socialists fought hard for our independence before the liberation does not mean that we should make socialism our framework. Despite the difficult situation we found ourselves in after the liberation, we managed to build a good framework. If President Syngman Rhee had failed to protect the free democracy of our country, we’d have been communized and ended up just like North Korea today. The reason China had been so poor was because the Mao Zedong government had built the country’s framework wrong. China could only build a new framework after Mao Zedong died. President Park Chung Hee also tried to build a good framework. Thanks to that framework and the “mountain ranges” that were built up at that time, we are enjoying our present level of affluence.
Reform has become a popular word for a long time. We talk about the future but our reforms and our future are all about the past, in reality. Why do we keep on digging up the past when we say we want to talk about our future and about reform? Why do we not think of going forward, but keep on looking backwards?
As a company with a good framework ensures that its internal competition leads to its external competitiveness, so a country with a good framework would accumulate the daily activities of its people to form the international competitiveness of the country and ultimately shape its future. A poor education framework means that no matter how hard students study, they would only acquire useless knowledge. Likewise, a country with a poor framework means that no matter how hard the citizens work, they would only see poverty and oppression. It is the duty of the people to work hard, enjoy movies, watch soccer matches, love their families and just live their lives within the given framework. It is up to the leaders of society to create that framework. We should not be applauding the leaders for breaking the past down just because it feels better.
We will have to watch carefully what kind of framework they build afterwards.
* The writer is the chief editor of editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk