[FORUM]Careless words create chaosTaejong of the Tang Dynasty of China said to his ministers, “I do not dare to speak a lot, because before I utter a word, I always consider whether my words will benefit my subjects. Words are the most important thing to virtuous men.
“How can it be easy to speak? If an ordinary subject makes a bad remark, people will remember it and it will bring shame and harm to the speaker. If a king of a country makes a disastrous slip of the tongue, won’t the damage be all the greater? I am always cautious about this.”
This is part of “Calm Watching and Gist of Politics,” a history book in which the author, Ou Geung, recorded the strong and weak points of Taejong’s governing tactics. This book is considered the most authoritative one on the study of kings and their aides.
Taejong’s observations have many implications. He emphasized that people should watch their words and that they cannot be too careful about what they say.
If people are careless about what they say, an individual can be shunned by relatives, friends and neighbors and lose their trust, and a statesman could turn the country into chaos.
How did the presidential impeachment by the National Assembly begin? People may have different opinions according to their biases, but I think the controversy started with the president’s remarks.
Let’s take a look at the first reason for the impeachment. When he said he would do anything to help Our Open Party become the majority party in the legislative elections, did the president expect the opposition parties to just watch with their hands folded?
The opposition had to react. If the opposition parties had just overlooked his remarks and made no objections, it would have been as if they were lifeless. What would be their reason for existing, then?
After Mr. Roh’s remarks became a political issue, it was pathetic to see the Blue House defend him, saying that as he was merely answering a reporter’s question, the president did not, according to precedents, violate the election law.
The president’s excuse ― that his remarks were trivial compared to those of past presidents ― was even clumsier. If he had known he was going to use such poor excuses, he should have spoken more discreetly to avoid being accused of violating the neutrality clause.
The suicide of a former head of a major company, who allegedly lobbied Mr. Roh’s elder brother to secure his position, is another consequence of the president’s words.
An officer from the company said the bereaved family thought the president’s press conference triggered the former business leader’s suicide. An opposition spokesperson blamed the president as well, saying that Mr. Roh insulted the victim openly and drove him to suicide.
If the president had cared about the honor of a citizen at all before he defended his elder brother who received the money, Mr. Roh would not have had to apologize for the debacle, saying that he felt heart-broken and sorry about the man’s suicide.
Taejong’s minister Wui Gye appealed to the king: “Although he excelled in eloquence, the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty who united China lost the hearts of the people because he exaggerated his ability. Although he had literary talent, the people were disappointed with Emperor Wen of the Wei Dynasty because he had too many empty words.” The minister was warning Taejong that the king should consider his speech and his words a serious matter.
Confucius said, “The heaven values silence, and a holy man takes it as virtue.”
Lao Tzu advised, “Spare words.” Laotzu thought when a ruler does this, he could win the hearts of the citizens and create a world where people can trust him.
On the day his power was suspended, President Roh said he would devote himself to keeping up with state affairs while the Constitutional Court decides the impeachment case. What he really needs to learn is how to control his tongue, a problem that has persisted even after he took office.
I expect that the president―who praises himself for his excellent learning ability ― will learn to change his manner of speech by the time he has finished his studies.
If the court decides not to remove Mr. Roh, we need to wait and see if the president will remain like the First Emperor of Qin or Emperor Wen, or be transformed into a Taejong.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Doh Sung-jin