[OUTLOOK]The times, they are a-changin’These days, parents with grown-up children seem to have a frequent worry: Children these days just don’t listen to their parents, they say. Many friends have said tension and strife among family members has increased during the election season, a reflection of the recent street rallies, mostly led by younger people, to oppose the impeachment of President Roh. Pro-impeachment demonstrators are usually older people. There is a great division between the opinions of the young and the old on important issues such as U.S. troops in Korea, the dispatch of Korean soldiers to Iraq and North Korea’s nuclear program.
Parents hope, even if they don’t say it aloud, that their children will share their views. The older generation, which faced a hard life, thinks that providing food, clothes and perhaps a room to study in is enough for their children. They worked day and night to raise this country’s living standards. They are proud and hope that if their children work as hard as they did, that they will never have to live in a war-scourged world as their parents did.
But children who grew up in the comforts provided by their parents don’t really appreciate what their parents have done for them. They take things for granted. When their parents start to talk to them about how much they suffered to provide them with all these things, they start to yawn. Some children even question their parents about family wealth, treating them as if they had committed a crime. Where were you when the others were fighting? Isn’t it your generation’s fault that there are still poor people with not enough to eat? Some tell their parents to drop out of society. “You are of a generation that will disappear soon. Don’t bother going to the polls,” they say. A priest in the Roman Catholic Church, supposedly strictly hierarchical, even criticized Cardinal Steven Kim for “reading the times incorrectly” and being “anachronistic.”
What has happened? I believe it is the older generation that is at fault for today’s troubles. While running around busily for their families and children, they let others form the minds of their children. Instead of passing on values, they concentrated on handing down material wealth. They forgot to teach their children about what they went through to make today happen. Children then took for granted everything they have today.
This is a small country surrounded by superpowers, a country that escaped stark poverty barely 20 years ago, a country that has a northern neighbor that has yet to experience change and progress. Parents should have taught their children what kind of a country they live in. They should have taught them the significance of the suffering of the past and the importance of humility. But our children are too immersed in the images of today to remember tales of past hardships. They were led to mistake their country for an advanced one, a powerful one.
It is more important to teach our children about the true spirit of democracy than to make them memorize anti-communist slogans. Children must be taught the importance of individual freedom and individual responsibility. They must be taught the importance of the rule of law. No amount of noble ideology, ethnic solidarity or justice can prevail if there is no rule of law. If we are not careful, a misguided majority could enforce a dictatorship as guns once did here.
Parents did not teach the spirit of free democracy to their children, and so today’s Korea has become a populist one governed by masses and not individuals. It has become a nation where truth is decided by the largest number, where problems are solved not by law but by physical force of the masses. There is an alarming number of young people today who do not believe in the principle of individual responsibility and who blame society and the rich for all their troubles.
We cannot let our society fester further. We must uphold the framework of the constitution. We should not let any party win enough legislative seats to revise the constitution. We must not tilt irreversibly to one side. We need a balance of power among political forces.
In the longer term, we must charge the younger generation to preserve the spirit of democracy. Parents must open their minds and accept the fact that their children are not the same as they are. They need an open attitude that can accept change.
They must teach their children with love. If their children refuse, they can start anew with their grandchildren. Change should start in our own families.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk