[Outlook]A philanthropic pushOn the last day of the 1908 Olympics in London, Italian athlete Dorando Pietri entered the stadium for the last 400 meters of the marathon with a commanding lead. The second person in the race didn’t even get to the stadium until a minute later.
However, suffering from dehydration, Pietri fell to the ground just short of the finish line.
He struggled to stand up and run but he fell again, not once but three times. When he stood up for the fourth time, two umpires who felt sorry for him helped him finish the race.
The audience applauded the athlete for his tremendous effort.
In the end he was disqualified, but the British queen gave him a gold cup in compensation for the gold medal he lost.
Even though he fell and didn’t win the race, he was certainly a great athlete who gave every last drop of his energy to try to achieve his goal.
During this year’s Olympics, the same type of inspiration can be detected in Korea. Koreans applaud the defeated who did their best.
I have never heard of this happening before here, but that is probably due to my lack of knowledge. At any rate, when the people are generous and understanding like this, there is hope for our country.
As far back as I can remember, we Koreans have been obsessed with victories and results. If an athlete didn’t win a gold medal there was no way for him to be rewarded for the four years of sweat that he shed.
If an athlete won a medal that wasn’t gold, the people didn’t pay any attention.
Naturally, most of the hundreds of athletes didn’t win medals, and Koreans either disrespected or ignored them.
However, things are different this time. People still joke about the weaker points in our Olympic lineup, saying we should fill a football arena with water so that Park Tae-hwan can swim in it instead.
But they encourage and applaud those who failed to meet the high international standards set at the Games.
Our women archers, who used to be the surest source of gold medals, were defeated by a Chinese athlete, but Koreans didn’t come down hard on them. We instead shared the burden put upon the team, consoling our defeated archers.
TV broadcasters didn’t catch up with this mature attitude of the viewers and stopped showing some sports events as soon as Korean athletes failed to advance.
But viewers complained, asking if Koreans are the only participants in the Olympics.
Now is the time to raise the awareness of citizens even further.
The reason that the Koreans are divided between leftists and rightists, conservatives and progressives, is because we are passionate about making our country a better place to live.
We should create even more energy that can encompass a broader spectrum, using this passion and awareness as woof and warp of a new movement.
We should take care of those who were defeated in life for various reasons, despite their efforts.
When it comes to helping others in the real world, our society is still coming up short.
In Korea, the number of people who do volunteer work is merely 0.52 percent of our population, according to the Maeil Business Newspaper.
That is less than one-hundredth of the figure in the United States, where 55.5 percent of the people volunteer.
In Singapore, a country whose national per capita income is similar to ours, 9.3 percent of the people do volunteer work, 20 times more than in Korea.
The newspaper’s survey also shows that people with higher incomes are less willing to help others. That is exactly the same as how we were during the Olympics.
We only wanted gold medals.
At times, there are stories about people who donate their entire fortunes of billions of won to charity, inspiring an emotional response in the people.
However, such occasional instances of philanthropy are not sufficient to embrace all the people in need.
In the United States, a country that could win a gold medal in philanthropy, $200 billion is donated every year.
Of that, 80 percent is from individual donors, of whom 80 percent donate on a regular basis.
Just as our perceptions of and attitudes toward athletes who aren’t able to win gold medals had changed, our perception of those who are struggling in life must change as well.
We can’t depend on a few people donating huge amounts of money or doing volunteer work once in a while, just as we can’t hold small fish in a loose net.
The benevolence of a lot of individuals, along with sustained volunteer work, can make the world a better place.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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