[Outlook]A sense of safetyIn central Seoul, as the candles dim, some organizations are urging people to wave political banners and fight. They have forgotten why they took to the streets in the first place. Their original demand for the government to renegotiate the beef deal with the United States was regarded as an indulgence that can easily be understood and forgiven in our society.
Let’s try and think about why so many people took to the streets holding candles in their hands, and why their candles have begun to go out despite some people’s urge for a fight. It is hard to know what those who used violence in central Seoul the other day were thinking. But one thing is certain. If a rather emotional subject, such as safety, is transformed into an entirely different, politically motivated issue, such as opposition to the privatization of public corporations, the citizens will turn their backs on the protesters. Public corporations already have their fair share of problems, and bizarre stories about possible surges in water and medical services won’t fool the people.
I don’t have any intention to underestimate the meaning of the candles that lit up the downtown streets for some 50 days. Many people have their own interpretations of the event, such as the arrival of digital democracy or the discovery of the possibility of direct democracy.
But that doesn’t seem the most important message of the protests. The most vital lesson that we can take from this uproar is the ground-breaking change in our perception of safety.
People claim that even if the risk of getting the human variant of mad cow disease is one in 100 million, the government has a duty to prevent such a risk. Even if the government reduces the risk to one in 3 billion, they would say that a risk is still there.
Science is based on possibilities and when chances of danger are nearly zero, a risk factor is said to be generally safe. But those safety-concerned people point out that concept shows a lack of sense of safety.
It is necessary and important for people to feel safe and for the government to make them feel that they are living in a safe country. There is no reason not to pursue a goal when there is nothing wrong with it. Safety often causes extra expenditures but few things are more important than safety. In this sense, the candlelight vigils can serve as a chance to make our country safer than it was. Every citizen can make efforts toward reaching this goal.
Perhaps it is the government’s duty to make things safe. But it is even better if many people keep an eye on things related to public safety. Some drive fast in front of schools despite signs to slow down. Some shops pile their stocks in front of emergency exits. Some people ride motorcycles on sidewalks. Some signs hanging on walls seem to be falling off. Scaffolds in construction sites look insecure. Some manholes are missing their covers. There are sunken parts in the streets. Some toys have sharp edges. Can people choose not to meet these dangers every day? No, they can’t.
Thus, we should carry out reforms in our daily lives. Safety is the most important issue in the country and citizens must take the first steps toward increasing it. If we don’t change our ideas of safety, the past 50 days of candlelight vigils will feel like a waste of time and energy. If it is important to have renegotiations with the United States over the beef deal, we should look at ourselves first. It is sometimes necessary to point out other people’s flaws, but we first must get rid of our own. If we change our conceptions of safety, we can make our country a safe place to live.
If we want to talk about the risk of mad cow disease from U.S. beef, we should examine the safety of Korean beef first. There is no need to worry about the cost, as safety is the most important issue of our time. It costs only around 20,000 won ($20) to examine a cow. Why can’t we conduct the tests? Why can’t we get rid of dangers in marketplaces? Safety is an important factor in boosting the competitiveness of products, and if we produce safer products we can make economic breakthroughs as well.
I wish that those people holding candles in their hands would tour every little alley and path of the country and make sure they are safe. I hope that our nation will become safer than most other nations, and that Korea will come to be regarded as a truly safe place to live in.
*The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Tae-wook