[Outlook]A surprising reaction‘In learning, there is no other way. If there is something you do not understand, the right approach is to ask those around you.”
So wrote Park Je-ga, a scholar of the Joseon Dynasty, in the introduction to his book, “Bukhagui,” or “A treatise on Northern Studies.”
This is a parody of Mencius’ comment that the best path to knowledge is to focus on the self.
Mencius emphasized the mental state of a scholar, whereas Park was more interested in action.
It’s not surprising that Park would think this way. He believed in practical studies, rather than the vacant discussions of Confucian intellectuals.
While reading a spate of reports about the Virginia Tech tragedy, Park’s comment returned to me out of the blue and reminded me of several other sagacious sayings of his.
For instance, he once gave a good scolding to the parochial Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty.
The following is a little bit long, but it is worth taking heed of what he said in its entirety.
“Scholars of the Joseon Dynasty are bigoted and parochial in nature, because they live in an isolated corner of the world. They put on airs as if they are the best in the world. The reason for their arrogance lies in their ignorance of the best ways to pursue knowledge. They say, ‘Those ruling present-day China are barbarians, these Manchurians. Learning from them strikes me as shameful.’ But we should regard barbarians as good teachers, if their laws and systems are good enough. We are not superior to them. Without any persuasive reason, we look down upon them. We slander their language and make sweeping criticisms of them, even of China’s superb laws and systems. If not them, who should we regard as a model upon which to base our improvements?”
The reason I recall Park at this moment, looking at how various parties have coped with the Virginia Tech tragedy, is because it occurred to me that he would have made a scathing remark about Koreans in the light of what happened.
Americans have been remarkably mature and wise in dealing with their sorrow and anger.
Relatives who lost their loved ones and must still be in the agony of bereavement have kept their composure.
As a result, their deep sorrow has affected us even more strongly.
Finding fault with the school authorities and the local police, who were reportedly slow in responding to the incident, did not become a significant factor in the way Americans responded to the tragedy.
This is a far cry from our behavior if, for example, our flights are delayed for a few hours. On these occasions we erupt into noisy riots and demonstrations.
In the Cho case, many American citizens actually tried to make Koreans feel better, after many of us thought we shared some responsibility for the tragedy because the perpetrator was a Korean national.
Every newspaper in the United States took a remorseful tone, suggesting that the killings were not the fault of Korea in general, but of Americans “for not taking good care of our immigrants.”
One newspaper said that Americans should take Korea’s apology as a blessing and a sign of great humanity.
It is beyond our understanding in our culture, with its group mentality, to realize that Americans can even be forgiving toward Cho Seung-hui. Could we respond like this if a foreigner with American nationality committed such a heinous crime in Korea?
Hidden beneath the seemingly arrogant attitude of a nation that promotes itself as the world’s policeman was a maturity that may be the real driving force that makes the United States a superpower.
Why have we not learned from them? Why are we fussing over pointless things like anti-Americanism or pro-Americanism and not focusing on their good aspects, at a time when a hundred thousand Korean students are studying in the United States?
Park Je-ga, in his Bukhagui, said, “Today, people have gone blind by putting patches over their eyes. Those patches are so firmly attached that nobody can get rid of them. They are hindering the development of our knowledge. ”
His comment still rings true today, just as it did 200 years ago.
Let’s get rid of those eye patches so we can see those we love and those we hesitate to set eyes upon.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom