[Viewpoint] The need for clearheaded advice

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[Viewpoint] The need for clearheaded advice

During the Spring and Autumn Period of China, the Qin Dynasty asked the neighboring state of Yu for passage rights to conquer the Guo state. The foolish king of Yu allowed the Qin soldiers to pass through the country. Naturally, Qin conquered Yu on his return from his victory over Guo. It is an ancient lesson that could be called Qin’s “borrowing the way through Yu to exterminate Guo.”

But beneath the story rests another one. After his state fell, the Guo king was on his way to exile. When he said he was thirsty, a vassal who was pulling the carriage stopped and served him a drink. After a while, the king said he was hungry, and so he was offered rice and meat.

“Where did you find the drink and the food?” the king asked. The vassal replied, “I prepared it in advance.”

Perhaps perplexed, the king asked, “And why did you do that?”

The vassal said simply, “I did it because I thought the king would need it on his way to exile.”

“How come you did not tell me in advance although you knew that my kingdom would fall?” the king demanded. Ever wise, the vassal explained that he couldn’t do so because he was too worried that he would be killed by saying so even before the country was defeated.

When we read a history book, so many ancient stories with similar lessons are written. Heads of all countries, companies and organizations have faced signs of declining fortune when they turned a deaf ear to what they didn’t want to hear. The state of Yu was an example. When the Yu State Minister Gong Zhiqi tried to stop the king, the king was already blinded with sweet promises made by the Qin emperor.

The story would later be remembered by the idiom that “if the lip is gone, the teeth will be gold.”

As I heard the news that a comedian will leave a TV program he has worked on for four years, I suddenly was reminded of the story. I don’t think I was having an unnecessary bout of anxiety. A while ago, a popular singer had also left a music program that he was hosting due to unclear reasons.

Another female comedian was about to be pushed out of a radio program that she had been hosting, but barely survived. Rumors also spread that an anchor-turned-professor who is hosting a well-known TV debate program will soon be canned.

The above-mentioned celebrities have something in common. They were friendly with the last administration and remained uncomfortable with the current one.

It is disquieting to see such figures step down one after another. Different reasons were all citied for their departures.

One had been in the position for too long, and another was called too expensive to keep on. I wish these reasons were actually true, but it is lamentable that none of the explanations seems convincing.

Korean society is split and no one is willing to listen to the other side, while insisting on their own point of view. Such separation of thinking and ideology is becoming far too wide, making it sometimes difficult for the society to function. In such times, it is dangerous to talk about celebrities’ ideologies. Youngsters are largely influenced by them, and such a debate is inappropriate to help the country’s youth to form healthy viewpoints. There probably is no need to say that a biased talk show or a current affairs program is out of bounds.

And yet, it is even more dangerous to gag the celebrities. The French writer and politician Andre Maurois once said, “We appreciate our friends’ honest opinions but other people’s candid remarks appear arrogant to our ears.”

That’s human nature. Instead of getting furious after listening to what others say, I need to sit back and consider whether I criticize others for being arrogant just because their opinion differs from my own. Leaders with strong power must do exactly this, because even their friends seldom give them frank advice.

In a healthy society, various opinions are heard. A person with empty words eventually loses power, but it is foolish to correct such a person prematurely. That is nothing more than an expression of a lack of self-confidence.

Patiently listening and carefully considering criticism takes wisdom and courage. It is clear that an organization, a company and a nation’s future will be bright when such wise and courageous leaders exist. As Roman writer and poet Publilius Syrus once said, “Many receive advice, but only the wise profit from it.”

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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