[Viewpoint]Fear tests Korea’s leader

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[Viewpoint]Fear tests Korea’s leader

Who is President Lee Myung-bak’s biggest political nemesis? Park Geun-hye?

Maybe we should ask “what” instead of “who” because it is not any person but insecurity. Instability has been growing in our society ever since this time last year when fire destroyed Sungnyemun (Namdaemun). We are now walking in a mine field. The entire country was in an uproar over food safety, and we had to endure the commotion of candlelight vigils protesting U.S. beef imports. Then before we had a chance to catch our breath, the country was hit by a financial and economic crisis, undermining the exchange rate, the stock market and employment.

The National Assembly is supposed to solve social and economic problems through laws, using dialogue and compromise. Instead, lawmakers resorted to hammers and chainsaws. The Assembly session was interrupted so often that it turned into a breeding ground of insecurity. Moreover, a notorious serial killer and the Yongsan tragedy confirmed that we are indeed living in insecure times.

Parents have become so obsessed with the idea that once their children fall behind, there will be no chance to catch up. So children are being forced to follow a strict schedule to learn English and other subjects and are being raised to be insecure. A fourth grader might be able to solve seventh grade math problems, but he still lacks confidence in himself.

Moreover, young job seekers are uncertain about their future even if they have flawless resumes with the five “magic” elements: a high Toeic score, study abroad, professional qualifications, community service experience and internships.

In fact, when a few major companies began to include being a blood donor as an accepted community service, college students became the top demographic to give blood, passing the long-time No. 1, the armed forces. The precarious state of today’s so-called 880,000 won generation is only getting worse.

Strangely, people are indifferent to Pyongyang’s latest antics. The threat of a nuclear crisis and the possibility of war don’t scare people like they used to.

Why do we feel this way? Maybe there are so many insecurities in our daily lives that our senses cannot comprehend graver threats like war. People think: “War doesn’t necessarily mean exploding bombs. We are already living war-like lives.”

British critic Ronald Hayman said, “Fear eats the soul.” German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder made a movie with that title, and poet Jo Yong-mi published a collection with the same title. Kim Yun-a, lead singer of the rock band Jaurim, recorded a song called “Fear Eats the Soul” on her solo album.

What really happens when fear eats the soul? Just as impaired capital means a company is broke, when fear eats the soul, individuals and society begin to collapse. In the end, fear is a quiet invader that swallows life.

When Julius Caesar stood in front of the Rubicon, when An Jung-geun waited for Hirobumi Ito’s arrival at Harbin station, when Dwight Eisenhower planned the Allied landing on the coast of Normandy, they all faced fear. However, they got over it and went on to make history.

History is full of stories of what is possible when people overcome fear and insecurity.

Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, who was known as “the god of management,” said it is best to fly kites when the wind is strong. By the same token, when the wind of fear is strong, you have to be able to ride the wind and overcome.

President Lee Myung-bak must pull through the wind enveloping the country. At the same time, he must take time to look back on the last year and see if he created any uncertainty himself.

Then, when he celebrates his first anniversary in office later this month, he will be able to display more mature leadership that embraces and resolves his biggest nemesis: fear.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong

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