[FOUNTAIN]There’s plenty to learn from a bad exampleKnowledgeable, respectable people who can offer a good example to others are known as “role models.” “ Exemplar” means much the same thing ―someone or something that is good enough to serve as a positive example.
On the other hand, there are those who offer good examples of how not to behave. The Chinese have a phrase for this, which translates as “instructor who teaches wrongful things.” The point is that a wise man learns from the harm caused by others.
Mao Zedong used the phrase in a speech to Communist Party leaders in 1957. Commenting on “reactionary elements,” Mao said, “There is no need to clean up or arrest anti-Party elements, except for those who commit serious crimes. Just leave them where they are, isolated, and use them to correct our own faults.” It is an unusual idea ―that even our enemies can be useful to us.
After a while, the phrase was adopted in Korea and Japan as if it were some kind of proverb. Of course, even in ancient times, there were attempts to make positive use of the faults of others. One old saying goes, “Rocks from a mountain can be turned into jade.” This means that the worthless attitudes of others can help us improve ourselves.
Business managers use the same logic when they try to learn by researching other companies’ failures. But it is a pity that there are many more bad teachers than good ones. Recently, a professor at prestigious Seoul National University, who should have been a good role model, was embroiled in scandal for using research grant funds inappropriately. He insists that this has been the custom, but there is much more to be investigated before we learn the truth. Many people who were disgusted by this incident say, “If this is how it is at Seoul National University, we can well imagine the situation at other universities.”
Of course, college professors are hardly the only ones in society who are “teaching wrongful things.” In Korea, politicians and public servants have always provided the best examples of this phenomenon.
We can even find a classic case overseas, as Japan, in claiming the Dokdo islands and beautifying its aggressive past, teaches one wrongful thing after another about history. From Mao Zedong’s point of view, this could be a lesson in itself. But it is a shame that there are so many bad teachers to learn from.
by Nam Yoon-ho
The writer is the leader of the family news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.