[OUTLOOK]The bitterest days in memoryI have been impoverished by myself over the years, but I spent last year in a state of poverty that was shared by others. Not only that, it was a year when even the wealthy seemed to live as though they were poor. The minister of the economy, well understanding their intentions, reproached the rich, saying that the economy had shrunk because they had not loosened their pursestrings.
But it was not only the wealthy who kept their pursestrings tight; all of the people suffered from economic difficulties, to the point of impoverishment. This is no exaggeration.
One of the obvious causes of the economic problems is said to have been a trap called uncertainty. Even people with no expertise in economics agree that inconsistent policies held us back and stopped the engine of economic growth. Speaking bluntly, the epicenter of this bitter uncertainty is politics.
My impression is that the political circle is crowded with people with rancor in their hearts and scores to settle, and that they are relying upon the power of politics to settle those scores. So confrontation and conflict, division and bloody arguments have become a daily routine, like opening the gate in the morning and sweeping the yard. Consequently, blocked at the threshold and unable to proceed, the engine of growth has stalled.
Meanwhile, political behavior that is too embarrassing to watch is penetrating our living rooms, unfiltered, via live broadcast. Broadcasters attack newspapers, and vice versa.
What’s more, people come to have different languages for day and for night, much as mountain villagers, during and right after the Korean War, were obliged to use two different languages to sustain their lives, one for police squads who came at sunrise and the other for partisans after sunset.
People try to talk like liberals on occasions when the prevailing ideological tint is progressive, and like conservatives when the opposite is true.
It was deplorable to hear a foreigner point out recently that while one may live without knowing the law, in Korea it is difficult to live without being able to read minds.
Some time ago, before we even knew it, we began to argue over differences among family members who sleep in the same house and eat breakfast at the same table. For nearly 70 years of my life, I have inevitably had to undergo numerous twists and turns, simply because I had to preserve my life in this land.
And though I experienced the incomparably harsh disaster of war at an early age, I can scarcely remember suffering such pain from the divisions over ideas and values among people living in this society as I do now.
Granted, it is an unavoidable task of our times to sort out our values and our views of the country. But I cannot but wonder whether the task is being pushed too doggedly.
During the Korean War, when the life of a human being had less value than that of a fly and we could not see even an inch into the future, our bodies were exhausted from seeking refuge day and night.
But I have no memory of the ideas held in our minds being torn asunder so irremediably.
What causes my lament is not just that foreigner’s remark. The fact that my heart was touched by a line in an advertisement reading, “Father, cheer up! ‘Cause we are here with you,” is circumstantial evidence that our country, with all its capabilities and skills, has failed to solve its problems and overcome its despair.
It is said that we can see hope most clearly when we are in the midst of despair. God does not grant us grace alone; when he blesses us, God has never forgotten to give us trials as well, however hasty he may be in doing so.
He has the wisdom of giving us such hardships, together with his blessings, so that we may stay competitive. Although it is often quoted, there is a saying that we should ruminate over: We should never forget that today, which I spend mindlessly with nothing to do, is the tomorrow that a person who said goodbye to this world yesterday, looking up to heaven, wanted to live.
* The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Ju-young