[OUTLOOK]What went wrong with us?

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[OUTLOOK]What went wrong with us?

Rice and other field crops are ripening under the hot sun. I dream our country will also be as green and healthy as the summer fields. I worry the green fields will ail and turn yellow, ruining the autumn harvest.
They say a sound mind makes for a sound body. The same goes with countries too. If a country has a healthy mind and great ideas, it will prosper. If ill thoughts rule a country, it will decline. That is how important “the power of the mind” is for a nation. It was “the power of the mind” that made us what we are today. The mindset that we can accomplish something by enduring difficult and trying times is what has made Korea the most successful country among those newly born in 1945.
Since some time ago, however, that mindset has started to fade. Nobody took it from us. We fell apart on our own. As British historian Arnold Toynbee said, civilization is not killed by someone outside but kills itself. Korea appears right now to be a country trying hard to kill itself. We are not falling apart because of an invasion from North Korea. We are disarming ourselves and falling helplessly sick.
A representative of our government went to North Korea and desperately tried to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. When the North’s leader finally accepted the appeal for a meeting, the southern representative behaved as if he was being done a great favor. What is wrong with our people? Why should we show such a servile attitude toward the North? We are the side that is giving. Why didn’t he consider the pride of the public? The present governing camp, which has not contributed much to the national economy, impels people to help North Korea economically, as if the money in the national coffer is earned by them. They behave as if they are the only ones full of brotherly love for North Koreans.
Why is it that those people, who call for love of our Northern brethren, torment South Koreans with conservatism and their own vested interests? Why, when North Korean representatives come to South Korea, do people at the stadium shout “Hurray for Kim Jong-il!” And why do those on the podium shout, “Let’s drive the U.S. military forces out of the Korean Peninsula with the united forces of the laborers in the North and South!”
Really, is this Pyongyang or Seoul? Those who support North Korea strut in the streets with heads held high, whilst those with fondness for South Korea live as quietly as mice. They hide and whisper. The South Korean police are frantically trying to protect those who violate existing South Korean laws, while spying on people who try to defend the values cherished by South Koreans. It is similar to the time we were under dictatorship. People talk about cooperation between South and North Korea and of co-existence, but in reality South Korea is already dispirited by North Korea. This cannot be a healthy country.
Even the president acknowledges that the polarization of our society is a big problem. The middle class is shrinking, while the upper and lower classes grow larger. More precisely, more and more middle class people are becoming lower class. In other words our social structure is getting sick. Whether your salary is high or low, if you have a steady job you can live a middle class life, but more and more such jobs are disappearing.
If business flourishes people become rich. But who would want to manage a company where people hate rich people? People need to be taught to work hard to have a good harvest if they are hungry. Instead they are being taught to throw stones over the fence of rich people’s homes. Throwing stones will not solve hunger. One might be able to fill a hungry stomach once by emptying a rich man’s cupboard, but it will not last. A diligent mind is condemned and instead jealousy and hatred are encouraged. Isn’t this a sick country?
Look at the problems of the past. Sound minds do not get obsessed with the past. If one is thankful for the present and has hope for the future, it makes even the most difficult past seem beautiful. People whose minds are sick spend their time chewing over the past. They kill time in blaming others. Our country is covered with the past right now. Leaders should show the direction of the future. The past is something that anyone can talk about. A country that always brings up its unhappy past ― is that a country with a healthy mind?
People say a country’s politics is the product of its culture. An authoritarian culture produces an authoritarian government. However, politicians and their power sometimes create culture too. Right now we are being dragged into a culture that is created by the people in power. This culture tilts to the weak and fragile rather than the strong and confident, it hates the achievements of others instead of acknowledging them, and clings more to the past than looks to the future. It instills us with the idea that our “national spirit” before now was wrong. Most people think this is wrong yet still follow the sick culture. Why? It is because they are the government and hold the power. That is why elections can change the country.

* The wtiter is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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