[Viewpoint] Bridging the generation gap

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[Viewpoint] Bridging the generation gap

Not long ago, the government decided to change the nationality law to partly allow dual citizenship. It is a realistic step, given the growing number of people with birth parents from Korea but who were born or raised overseas. Not so long ago, Koreans having another country’s citizenship were eyed with suspicion and mistrust. Our society has come a long ways.

French writer Alphonse Daudet is most renowned for an autobiographical short story called “The Last Lesson” published in his 1873 story collection named “The Monday Tales.” The story is set in a small region called Alsace sitting on the border between France and Germany during the time it was annexed to Germany - then Prussia - after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The story revolves around a classroom of small children who receive their last lessons in French.

The seven-page story was also printed in Korean textbooks, touching the hearts of nationals who know what it is like losing their country’s identity.

To those born before the country was freed from Japanese colonialism in August 1945, the meaning of having a national identity evokes deep emotions. Those sad people were forced to live as if they were Japanese. Then they came under control of the American military before the Korean government was established on Aug. 15, 1948. To my recollection, we had to study whatever book the Americans distributed and our passports were issued by the military administration.

The country had swirled in political and economic turmoil for half a century by the time the government was formed. And people were only beginning to taste freedom when North Korean tanks invaded, crushing homes and sending citizens fleeing south. During the three-year war, Koreans were shattered by the loss of loved ones, land, confidence and hope.

But somehow, they picked themselves up and became heroes in a rags-to-riches story that has produced the world’s 13th-largest economy. They lived a day as if it had 25 hours, raced through the week as if it was eight days long, and roamed the globe to gather a few dollars to assist in the formation of Korea Inc.

On the political front, they built democracy with equal tenacity. It took more than 150 years for France to become a democratic state from the inception of Napoleon’s Empire to the Fifth Republic under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. But this country rose the democracy banner in less than a half-century. The society has had its share of upheavals, but few others can match its accomplishments over such a short period of time.

Those who steered the country’s dynamic march in politics and economy are now mostly retired, bearing old battle scars and tales that remind us of the history that they made. Just because they have more time on their hands than they are accustomed to doesn’t mean their interest in their country has waned. Many shake their heads as they watch political and economic scenes unfold these days.

They complain that the devotion and sacrifice they gave when they were young are hard to find among the younger generation. But of course their words of wisdom hardly get the attention of that same generation. There is a 4,000-year-old Egyptian writing lamenting the younger generation. It seems a generation gap is nothing new.

I recently received interesting feedback from a young man over dinner. His argument was that even though he respected the older generation’s experience and triumph over hardship, he felt it was unreasonable and unfair for older people to demand the same attitude and values from a generation that didn’t know those experiences.

Today’s generation in fact faces entirely different hardships and challenges amid intense competition at home and abroad that the older generation cannot fully comprehend. They, too, are trying hard to survive and their efforts are no less valuable.

Our past and experiences can serve as lessons for the younger generation. But as accepting dual citizenship now seems natural, different times and environments call for different views and judgments. Accepting that the young are living in their own age will help build a bridge between the older and younger generations.

*The writer is chairman of the board of directors at the Chung-Ang University Foundation.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Yong-sung
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