[Outlook]A forest where leaders are born

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[Outlook]A forest where leaders are born

On Thursday, the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement of 1919, I went to a forest of cedars and chamaecyparis conifers, also known as false cypress or white cedars.
A man named Lim Jong-guk planted and grew some 2.5 million trees on this 569 hectare plot over the course of several decades, creating a forest of miracles.
I had visited the same place two months earlier, on the first day of this year. Back then the forest was covered with sparkling snow and everything was still. On this occasion new life was burgeoning as the spring begins to unfold.
As I walked through the vibrant forest, I thought that the presidential hopefuls who want to take responsibility for the future of our country should come to this forest.
Instead of visiting by car and having a couple of photos taken before leaving immediately, they should spend some hours here, walking and thinking. If they want to be taken seriously as candidates they should come here to reflect on at least four things.
First, they should think seriously about what species of trees will be found here in the future.
Mr. Lim contributed to this country by providing the seeds that were used to grow the whole forest. He stuck to white cedars and conifers, instead of acacia trees, even though cedars are difficult to plant and acacia trees are easy to get in the ground and they spread quickly, almost like a weed.
Half a century later, many acacia trees have grown unruly and crooked ,so that we want to get rid of them. However, white cedars and conifers have grown straight up and both have higher economic and environmental value than other trees. Making the right judgment about which trees to plant defines the future of a forest. This is the same with a country.
Second, they should not simply follow the trend but encourage a new spirit for our times. Mr. Lim started planting trees in the mid 1950s. Shortly after the end of the Korean War, almost everybody cut down trees for firewood. Sometimes, people even took the roots for that purpose.
At the time planting trees was regarded as a crazy thing to do, completely against common sense of the time. However, because Mr. Lim did not follow the fleeting trend of the moment but did something others regarded as eccentric, we can now enjoy his wonderful forest.
Our times are much better than the 1950s. However, things are not so different.
Just as people took the roots of trees for firewood, our mental foundations have been stripped to nothing. Just as Mr. Lim poured all his money and energy into a barren patch of land and planted trees there, we need a leader who implants this mentally barren land with a new spirit of innovation and enterprise.
Third, the candidates should learn how to nurture the talented by looking at this forest. Even though a forest appears to be a quiet and serene place, it is indeed a place of fierce competition. A forest is created through silent competition among trees.
If the aspirants want to lead the country in the future, they should reform the current education system which is only good enough to grow our children into bushes, not into the giant trees we need. They should get inspiration from this forest and draw up new plans for the nation’s system of education. The essence of these new plans should be to teach children to respect differences but not to fear competition.
Fourth, they should overcome their egos. A great leader should overcome the desire to stand out from everybody else. Great leadership means the readiness to forget one’s ego and to sacrifice oneself in order to save the rest of the country. As long as leaders are obsessed with ego, a forest that we can all share and enjoy will not be created.
Thus, a great leader should not be like a pine tree which stands alone. A great leader should learn modesty and harmony. By embracing different thoughts and ideas, he or she should be able to create a wonderful forest.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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