[VIEWPOINT]Roh takes 1 step ahead, 2 steps backA leader is lonely. A leader, who has to make a decision at a critical moment without knowing whether danger lies ahead, cannot but be in solitude. A leader feels lonely because no one can make the decision in place of him or share the responsibility with him. Especially when the fate of many people hinges on his decision, the pressure of the solitude a leader has to endure is unimaginable for anyone who has not experienced the same situation.
At times a leader feels the temptation to quit, or regrets having to bear all the responsibilities. In the meantime, the deadline for a decision approaches inch-by-inch and the leader submerges himself in the rising tide of solitude. He has to endure it silently.
British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of the heroes who showcased leadership in a catastrophic situation. In December 1914, Sir Ernest set sail with his 27-man crew, with the goal of accomplishing the first crossing of the Antarctic continent. But his ship, the Endurance, drifted and became locked within ice floes.
The rew members started a desperate struggle for survival, fighting bitter cold and hunger. But the prolonged solitary life in the polar region that tests the limitation of human faculties along with the dim chances of survival started to gnaw at the bodies and minds of the crew. At last, they lost all hope of a safe return.
Then Sir Ernest stood up to encourage crew members and set out on a desperate journey with five crew members to get help.
In a 22-foot lifeboat, they accomplished the impossible, surviving a 17-day, 800-mile journey through the world’s worst seas and over a 3,000-meter(3,281-yard) iceberg with an ax and a bundle of rope, to arrive at South Georgia Island, where a whaling station was located. After 634 days, Sir Ernest returned home. Not one member of his 27-man crew was lost. It is difficult to describe the extreme sense of solitude and human agony that Sir Ernest had to endure. But he hid the pain and buried the agony in his heart ― he never revealed it to his crew. The crew gave him full credence and followed him.
President Roh Moo-hyun seems to feel the solitude of a leader deep in his heart nowadays. Mr. Roh reportedly told Lee Yong-deuk, head of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, who was present at the National Economy Advisory Committee meeting held at the Blue House on Thursday: “I hear that you get criticism and hardship since you are actively engaged in labor-management dialogue. I think it is the solitude of those who have to lead the people, and stay one step ahead of them.” Then he added, “I have also suffered loss many times because I went one step ahead.”
The president, who holds the ultimate responsibility for government administration and makes numerous decisions every day affecting the future of the nation, must feel lonely at times.
As no one can assume the post of the president in his place or share his responsibility, it is not possible to measure the depth of his solitude.
Although it was not the life-or-death crisis that Sir Ernest overcame, Mr. Roh must be feeling exhausted as he has already managed to steer his troublesome ship, South Korea, through the danger of shipwrecks for the past three years. However, Mr. Roh’s “solitude of the forerunner,” unlike Sir Ernest’s “solitude in desperation,” sounds somewhat hollow.
First of all, it does not seem appropriate for a national leader to reveal his inner feelings.
Moreover, Mr. Roh’s loneliness does not show any trace of benevolent tolerance or weighty perseverance. It is regrettable that his remarks contain parochial dogma and shallow arrogance.
It seems awkward for the president to rate himself as “a leader who goes ahead of the time.” It is even more difficult to sympathize with his belief that he suffered a loss by taking that path.
It may be difficult for a person who thinks of himself as someone who moves ahead of the time to endure loneliness, but it is even more difficult for the people, who are dragged by a leader who insists he suffers by being ahead of the times.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jong-soo