[VIEWPOINT]A way to shake things up in Korea“Oink” is the word in English for the grunting of a pig. Koreans think of a pig grunt as “kkul-kkul,” but the Westerners seem to hear it differently. However, the word “oink” has become much-talked-about by foreign businessmen. Not for the pig’s grunting, but for the abbreviation O-In-K ― “only in Korea.” As the association with a pig implies, the expression contains contempt. It means “something very absurd, which could not happen anywhere in the world but Korea.”
It is insulting, but we cannot deny the accusation. Even from a Korean’s standpoint, I find many things hard to understand.
Korea sold a bank cheaply when was urgently needed. When the country recovered, we grumbled over the deal, calling it the Lone Star controversy.
Some citizens of South Korea, the 12th-largest economy in the world, admire the autocratic politics of North Korea, an internationally derided failure. Only in Korea, a mother whose son is a riot policeman sends a letter to the labor unions thanking them for not staging demonstrations. Only in Korea, the government spends hundreds of billion of won (hundreds of millions of dollars) to establish a dozen committees to investigate not-so-long-ago modern history.
The high level of chaos in Korean society can be blamed, but it was once the driving force behind the country’s growth.
Koreans set a seemingly impossible goal and dashed toward it without looking back. When we saw an obstacle, it was bulldozed out, and when we found a fault, it was covered up with asphalt.
The worrying voices in opposition were lost in the noise of the heavy equipment. While we took quick steps, however, we dropped and lost a lot of things along the way.
Now that we have caught up with those ahead of us and taken a little rest, we are reminded what we have lost.
Our inner voices, which call us to recover what we have left behind, reverberate, “oink, oink.”
We should not blame others. Instead, we must look back on ourselves and contemplate all the faults we have tolerated to achieve our goals, and all the wrongdoing we have overlooked.
However, we cannot turn around and go back. It is foolish to only look backward. There must be a difference when you go to the bathroom and when you come out, unless you are suffering from constipation.
Now is the time to address issues. Let’s not ignore faults when we spot them. American writer and journalist Stetson Kennedy started the Frown Power campaign in the 1940s. He encouraged people to express discomfort by pointedly frowning whenever they heard racial remarks or saw bigoted behavior. It is undeniable that Mr. Kennedy’s Frown Power campaign contributed to the decrease in public racial discrimination in the United States today.
How about we shake our heads instead of frowning? Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” illustrates an interesting example.
A headphone maker conducted an experiment on three groups of college students. The first group was told to sit still and listen to music. The second group listened to music as they nodded their heads, and the third group shook their heads from side to side. As the music was about to end, the students were informed of news of tuition increase. The first group did not show much response to the tuition increase and continued listening to the music. The second group accepted the increase as an unavoidable reality. However, the third group strongly resisted and even insisted that the tuition should be lowered. All they did was shake their heads ― but they realized their strong will together to oppose the increase.
Let’s shake our heads when we find faults. By shaking heads, we can show that we will not tolerate wrongdoing.
It is nothing grand. We can start in our daily lives. When you spot a car making an illegal U-turn, when someone cuts into a queue, when the faucet in the public restroom leaks, when you are asked to pay more than the agreed price, you should shake your head.
The New York City subway system tightened control on people jumping the turnstiles to get onto a train, and it led to a significant drop in the overall crime rate in the entire city. It is known as the “Broken windows theory.”
When we tolerate wrongdoing and fail to show our disapproval, our society turns into a monster of absurdity and contradictions. And the monster will ceaselessly cry, “Oink! Oink!”
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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