[FOUNTAIN]Inspiration or chicken ribsIn ancient Greece, slaves and free citizens were distinguished by the shoes the latter wore. The philosopher Plutarch called bare feet a symbol of low birth, and slaves were not allowed to wear shoes. Free Greeks would not go out in public without shoes because of a fear that they might be misperceived as slaves.
In the 19th century, Indians would take off their shoes when they went into the office of an Englishman. In contrast, Englishmen would not take their shoes off even when visiting Indian temples. Wearing shoes was considered a symbolic act that set the rulers apart from the ruled.
The most notable historical figure to emphasize his authority with shoes was King Louis XIV of France. The Sun King was a short man with big ambitions. He was only 5 feet 3 inches tall, and because he wanted to overwhelm the world as the “big ruler,” he wore tall wigs and platform shoes to add extra inches. When he made public appearances, he wore specially-made shoes with 5-inch heels.
Shoes also represent political philosophies as well as authority. Thomas Jefferson was the first U.S. President to wear oxford shoes, so named because the students at Oxford refused to wear boots and started wearing lace-up shoes from the 1640s. Shoelaces were a new fashion at the time. Frenchmen in the 18th century, during the French Revolution, opted for shoelaces instead of buckles to fasten their shoes. They thought that shoelaces were more “democratic.” Mr. Jefferson wore oxford shoes when he was elected U.S. president in order to advocate the meaning of democracy.
U.S. President George W. Bush likes to wear cowboy boots. He owns a hand-made pair with the stars and stripes and his name carved on them. The design might reflect his ambition to eliminate villains and fly his flag around the world.
Lately, Premier Wen Jiabao’s worn-out sneakers attracted attention. During his tour of the farming villages in Hunan Province, one outsole of the Chinese leader’s old sneakers fell apart, and he had it repaired. The pair was made in China and had been repaired before.
Koreans are troubled by the “chicken ribs” controversy these days. The Blue House is furious that a media outlet compared the president to chicken ribs, nothing much to eat and too much to throw away.
Now shoes and ribs are different, but the point remains: Where are the little inspirational insights here that make a leader great? Why do our leaders react and grumble instead of setting little examples for us?
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.