Words of inclusionIn 1961, a charming young American president uttered many memorable phrases that decisively outlived images of his presidency and drastically shortened life.
One of John F. Kennedy’s famous expressions, as delivered in his inaugural address, was, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Recently, after reading an article about the leper community on Sorok Island in South Korea, I realized that though President Kennedy’s words have come to serve as a policy bedrock for organizations as varied as the World Trade Organization and United States Agency for International Development, they have yet to resonate with millions around the world.
It is all too tragic and unfortunately, all too common, that socioeconomic elites of all societies, with rare exceptions, are inclined to overlook the impoverished, sick, desperate and physically disabled among us.
There seems to be an unspoken will to isolate and marginalize citizens who are “different.”
Actions by governments and informed individuals who actively espouse isolating those deemed as members of fringe groups ignore JFK’s advice at their peril.
On the global level, the community of nations has learned that disengaging from direct negotiations with North Korea has led only to increased proliferation and a more troubled, less-secure region.
Now, after persistent and ongoing constructive dialogue, progress on multiple fronts has been made and further turbulence averted.
The Libyan example comes to mind when one ponders the benefits of engagement ― especially in the remarkable transition of a former rogue sponsor of terrorism into a budding peaceful stakeholder.
Unfortunately, engagement and the diplomacy that accompanies it remains an elusive strategy that is more the exception than the norm.
Who can forget the systematic internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the massive deportation of Mexicans during the Great Depression?
These actions, like the forcible exile of thousands of leprosy victims into an island of torture and anguish during and after the Japanese colonization of Korea, are immeasurably counterproductive and, worst of all, outright violations of basic human rights.
Whether in Seoul or Washington, D.C., the practice of relegating those individuals or ideas that we fear somewhere underground, out of sight, is not conducive to the growth of a tolerant and pluralistic society.
Yes, people around the world are now more accepting of people with AIDS, but we need a concerted effort to remove the pervasive discrimination that denies humanity to some.
How do we accomplish this feat?
Perhaps revisiting the words and vision of one exemplary American president of the past will illuminate our path to a more genial future.
Dennis Yang, an English teacher at Gimhae Foreign Language High School