[Viewpoint]The power of reticence

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[Viewpoint]The power of reticence

After I read an article in a recent issue of JoongAng Sunday, I was tempted to visit Bongha Village. The previous president has returned to his hometown for retirement. About 3,000 people visit the village on weekdays, twice that many on weekends. What’s going on in Bongha Village that attracts so many people?
When visitors gather in the town square and call for him to come out, the former president appears right away, donning a cowboy hat and waving. He comes out in the middle of his meal and he has left his tea to meet people. The previous first lady has been laid up with fatigue.
So these days, you can find a sign that says when Roh Moo-hyun will make his next appearance. He will come out and talk with his visitors, who are often willing to share snacks with him.
As I read the article, I was reminded of a dolphin show at an amusement park. Yet Roh made me smile for the rest of the day for making a lasting impression on me, even though I am not a supporter of Roh or a member of his fan club.
While he was in office, I often criticized him. However, I have to admit that he is cool now. He is not making vain efforts to cling to power. Instead, he is living with the common people and working for the community like a hardworking town elder.
The village is crowded with people coming to see the former president, who was so unpopular in office, and they must feel the same. He has even earned a new nickname, Mr. Cool. It is a twist of fate that during retirement the president who vowed to end authoritarianism is winning back the authority he had refused while in office.
While there may be many reasons for his newly earned respect, silence seems to be the biggest contributor.
The previous president has not made one political remark since leaving office. And he remains reserved when visitors ask him political questions.
Instead of the controversial and frank speech that became his signature style, he rides a bicycle with his granddaughter and smokes cigarettes, wearing flip-flops. People see charisma from his unassuming attitude.
Roh must be appreciating the value of silence very much. I hope the current president learns the lesson because he is similar to his predecessor in many ways.
Most notably, both presidents are talkative. And their garrulousness is a concern for many of us.
The president can prove himself gradually with his actions, but he talks about his plans too much.
Although he was able to keep a composed demeanor regarding North Korea, Lee Myung-bak provokes by making statements like, “I am not desperate to give things away.”
He has excessively stressed Korea’s friendship with the United States, and his emphasis became a basis for attacks by people who said he was losing business for Korea.
He speaks about “resource diplomacy” whenever he gets the chance, but he seems to be advertising our keen need to buy instead of carefully negotiating prices with the seller.
He has handpicked his aides, but he also said that the lineup is filled with rich people as if they were selected by somebody else.
Primi Visconti was an Italian fortune-teller who lived in Versailles. He wrote of Louis XIV, “Look at the face of the king. We cannot read his expression. He does not discuss state affairs unless he is in a meeting. When he talks to the ministers, he only tells them their rights and duties. As a result, even when the king makes a trivial comment, people listen to him attentively as if it were a divine message.”
Now, we remember Louis XIV by his famous quip, “I am the state.” All of Europe was overwhelmed by his authority.
I wish the president of Korea had a similar kind of authority.
Hopefully, Korea will have two beloved former presidents when President Lee retires. And hopefully, one of them will enjoy popularity during his term.

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom

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