[VIEWPOINT]A surplus of reasons to blushDuring his recent tour of European and Asian countries, President Roh Moo-hyun announced that if circumstances arose in which he found himself in an uncomfortable situation regarding the North Korean nuclear problem, he would gladly blush and face up to it. This can be interpreted as an expression of discomfort toward the United States and its hard-line posture toward North Korea ― especially the neo-conservatives in Washington who spearhead the hard-line foreign policy.
Outside South Korea, however, the response has been that it is strange for the Korean government to suddenly announce that it will blush if need be, when in truth it has been blushing over its relations with the United States for years.
Many people acknowledge that South Korea-U.S. relations have become very chilly and uncomfortable since the present government came to power. It could be said that this is because of the changes in U.S. policy, or excessive U.S. demands that were made in the course of negotiations with Korea over issues such as the deaths of two middle-school girls in a U.S. Army vehicular accident, the North Korean nuclear standoff, the re-alignment and reduction of the U.S. forces in Korea and the dispatch of Korean troops to Iraq.
But it can also be said that the discomfort exists because the Korean government, which raises the flag of reform, has been blushing over the United States continuously, as if it were in a position to tell Washington what it should do.
But Korea’s diplomatic relations with the United States are not the only cause for blushing of late. Whether because of the cold weather, the flurry of seasonal parties or some other reason, Koreans have been doing plenty of blushing lately over their own domestic situations.
Political parties in the Nationl Assembly holding out on each other over the four major reform bills, including the National Security Law abolition, and the controversy over a governing party assemblyman’s affiliation with the North Korean Workers’ Party are two situations that call for more than just a little awkward blushing.
Korea’s labor unions are known for the vigor with which they frequently go red in the face, in protests where they wrap red bands around their heads, and entrepreneurs in turn find themselves blushing over anti-market and anti-corporate sentiments in Korea.
Students, teachers, parents and educational authorities find themselves blushing with guilt, distress, anger and shame as they let the college entrance examination cheating case go. Meanwhile, small merchants and low-income people go red in the face with anger as they attack the government, saying business and life are harder than ever.
People blush when an emotion is greatly enhanced. Enormous grief, jealousy, embarrassment, panic, shame and joy can all make a person blush. By contrast, to call someone cool indicates that the person is not ruled by emotion, and is firmly rational. The expression of emotion is natural and instinctive, and is therefore animalistic too. Coolness, on the other hand, is human and rational. Therefore, we need an appropriate balance between, and combination of, the two.
To its shame, however, Korean society today seems to be going over completely to the side of emotion. In a society where the need to live together in harmony is habitually pointed out, we are getting red in the face over conflicts between the two parties, between labor and management, and between the rich and the poor. Instead of engaging in serious debate or discussing a solution rationally, logically and scientifically, people are busy putting their emotions forward, and turning red.
The protest culture of Korea, in which candles are representational, shows how sentimental Korean society is. The tendency to hold a protest over any issue, whether it’s the National Security Act, the investigation of the nation’s past, the relocation of the capital, the opening of the agricultural market or the reconstruction of apartments, is a very emotional approach that attempts to solve problems by getting red in the face first.
The flood of groups whose names end with the suffix “-mo,” indicating a group of people with a single common interest, is evidence of this same point. It is jaw-dropping to consider that there are even such groups for the unemployed and for people with bad credit.
Right now, Korean society is unable to hide feelings, and is expressing the five needs (wealth, status, food, sleep, sex) and the seven passions (joy, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hate, lust) just as they are felt, sometimes to the point of emotional explosion.
Our society must quickly learn to live with people who have different thoughts and opinions, and we need to learn that it is possible to do so without getting red in the face. Otherwise, I am afraid that Korean society will end up as one that blushes with shame in the face of the rest of the world.
* The writer is a professor at Illinois State University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chang Suk-jung