[Viewpoint] Drawing a new picture of ourselves

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[Viewpoint] Drawing a new picture of ourselves

Ten years ago, I was living in Washington, D.C.

America, like elsewhere in the world, was in euphoria over the start of a new millennium. New York’s Times Square was decked out to drum in the new century while in other corners of the nation people stacked up candles and canned food in a frenzied scare over the millennium bug called Y2K.

At the time, the United States was gloating as the world’s undisputed sole superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist bloc in Eastern Europe. The world expected that America’s unipolar global power status would likely be unchallenged in the 21st century.

Across the Pacific, South Korea had little reason to gloat. It was only beginning to edge out of the state of near national bankruptcy. There were doubts about its recovery.

Eurasia Group, a global political risk research institute, listed lingering economic risks in South Korea and other East Asian countries as one of the world’s top five concerns.

A decade has passed and history has unfolded in unexpected ways. China has become a potential superpower, and South Korea acts as a key member of the G-20. The Eurasia Group worried at the end of 2009 whether the United States could successfully pull out of its recession.

There has been a major change of players during the first inning of the 21st century.

If our dream had been to be as rich as some countries in the West, we are living it now.

Global investment banks turned bullish on South Korea, with Goldman Sachs predicting a united Korea may overtake Germany and Japan in the next 30 to 40 years.

Could this actually be happening?


As we weathered last year’s global economic storm, a new horizon spread before our eyes. When a ship sets sail, it draws its course and steers accordingly.

The Korea ship appears to be sailing right on course.

What kind of an advanced country we will be building is now our key challenge.

There have been numerous wealthy and powerful countries in world history. But none enjoyed this status perpetually.

Many crumbled and fell to their demise. Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands had once been glorious with riches, but they fell and only managed to regain some sort of status in the 20th century.

Our future should not rest with our riches.

If we want to avoid history’s mistakes, we must envision a different future.

When American settlers built a new nation in the new world, they envisioned a “shining city upon a hill.” They envisaged a Christian utopia feeding on freedom, equality and prosperity.

Though many have been disillusioned over the decades, such envisioning has still helped to shape the country into one of the most ideal places to live on this planet.

While visiting Sydney, I was enthralled by the imagination behind the architecture of the Opera House in the shape of seashells or seagulls readying to fly away.

The architect, Jorn Utzon, could not have designed it if he hadn’t had visualized this in his imagination.

Building a country also requires such vision.

To start drawing, we need a blank slate. To do so, we must empty our heads and free ourselves from the past.

To come this far, we had to drive ourselves hard, spending less, saving stringently and working harder than others.

We accomplished democracy quicker than other societies, driven by resistance and protest.

To suspect and oppose became our second nature. Individuality prevailed over society and the well-being of my family and myself mattered most.

When someone does well, we tend to sneer and envy rather than genuinely applaud. Resentment had been our impetus, but cannot make us a top-class society.

We must pick up a new brush and paint ourselves afresh.

We should work not to fight hunger, but to prove our worth.

All jobs must be respected for their function and individuality.

Instead of fattening our own pockets, we should look around us and share with those who have less.

Instead of quarreling and fighting for the sake of opposing, we must learn to be more understanding and tolerant.

While enjoying freedom, we must be more responsible and law-abiding.

Instead of waiting for the state, we must learn to help ourselves first. We, in short, should ourselves mature in order to build a mature society.

As we dream of a secure, comfortable home, we must dream of a secure, comfortable nation. We must be peace-loving nation.

We must all join to draw this new picture for our society at the dawning of a new decade.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-geuk
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