[Viewpoint] An absence of inspiration

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[Viewpoint] An absence of inspiration

The excitement generated by the great performances of Korean athletes in the Vancouver Winter Olympics Games still lingers today. The emotional wave even swept up local athletes who didn’t win medals.

This type of public emotion, passion and pride are noticeably absent in Korean politics.

Sports and politics, of course, are two completely different areas of society. But they have a lot in common as well. Athletes and politicians both have rivals, and one side nearly always wins while the other suffers defeat.

There are great stories of triumph and tragedy in sports and politics, while both also have their share of inspiring leaders and disappointing failures.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that sports metaphors are often applied to politics.

So why can’t we get just as excited and passionate about politics as we do with sports? Are we too insensitive when it comes to politics? Or is there simply nothing in Korean politics at this time that touches our hearts?

One of the sad examples of our lack of passion in politics can be found in the leadership of President Lee Myung-bak.

He is praised as a “super-busy” president who works extremely hard and has achieved so much, particularly in the realm of the economy.

Yet very few people find his political leadership inspiring.

And then there’s the case of former Grand National Chairwoman Park Geun-hye. She touched many Koreans’ hearts in the not-too-distant past when she gave a famous speech while conceding defeat to Lee in the party’s presidential primary.

Now, however, she has a rigid attitude and persistently plays the role of a fighter, which is lamentable.

In the Olympics, we are inspired when we see a medalist not because the athlete won, but because we think about the blood, sweat and tears it took for him or her to get to the podium.

It’s abundantly clear that a medalist has to make superhuman efforts to accomplish his or her goals. In politics, there are winners and losers, but the competitive element of it is decidedly cruel.

It all depends on how the players embrace both victory and defeat.

To become a great politician, one must show superhuman strength in composure and grace. The key to remaining humble in victory and retaining dignity in defeat lies in forgiveness and reconciliation.

The two are, in fact, religious traits, reminding us of the biblical phrase “love your enemy.”

The latest example of how forgiveness and reconciliation can incite strong emotions in the political sphere is Nelson Mandela.

In the movie “Invictus,” which chronicles Mandela’s life, the leader reaches out for reconciliation to his white countrymen who oppressed him and even engages a rugby team consisting only of white athletes.

Why are forgiveness and reconciliation absent in Korean politics? Is it because Korea isn’t a very diverse society? Or is it because there have been too many unforgivable incidents?

While President Lee has racked up enormous achievements, he failed to touch the hearts of the Korean people because he failed to embrace them.

Instead, he pushes them very hard.

Park’s words also lost their “magic power,” perhaps because she was too occupied with her bitter feelings toward Lee.

Of course, it is possible that negative feelings stemming from the presidential primary and the legislative elections - in which Park loyalists failed to win the GNP nominations - still linger. Lee and Park also have very different stances on the Sejong City issue.

Korean politics will only be remembered as politics of remorse - not of emotion - as long as Lee and Park refuse to forgive each other and reconcile.

Many hospital patients feel secure that their doctors won’t make fun of them or criticize them harshly for their illnesses or lifestyles, and the same thinking should hold true in politics.

Exchanging stabbing words in the political realm - particularly when it involves senior leaders in major political parties - does not nurture the spirit of mutual survival.

Political discussions that simply involve arguing about whether a policy is right or wrong are emotionless. Politicians who can reach out their hands in forgiveness and reconciliation can inspire passion and emotion. It is time for President Lee to think about why he hasn’t been able to inspire the people even though his approval rating hovers around the 50 percent mark. Park, too, must reflect on this issue, as her approval rating is plummeting.


The writer is a professor of ethics education at Seoul National University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Hyo-jong
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