[Viewpoint] Lessons from a wise ‘little flower’

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[Viewpoint] Lessons from a wise ‘little flower’

In front of the New York Public Library, a pair of marble lions named Patience and Fortitude stand.

Their names came from an Italian-American jurist.

One day during the Great Depression, an elderly woman was on trial in a New York City court for stealing loaves of breads to feed her granddaughters.

The grandmother’s story was so pitiful that the judge could have shown leniency, but he convicted her on the theft charges and fined her $10.

Then he pulled a surprise. The judge said that each and every person in the courtroom was equally guilty of creating a cruel city where grandmothers had to steal bread to feed their grandchildren, and fined all the spectators 50 cents.

Someone passed a hat, and the spectators were glad to pay their fines. Then the judge pulled a $10 bill from his wallet and put it into the hat, saying he was paying the grandmother’s fine.

The money in the hat added up to $57.50. After removing the $10 fine, the judge handed $47.50 to the grandmother.

That’s a story about Fiorello La Guardia, who served as mayor of New York three times after working as a lawmaker for the House of Representatives, when he took the bench himself on behalf of a judge one evening.

Mayor La Guardia carried out drastic reforms in the city, asking for patience and fortitude from New Yorkers during the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, rather than relying on populism.

When peace returned, New Yorkers named the two lions in front of the library “Patience and Fortitude” and eventually named the airport in Queens after La Guardia.

Many New Yorkers still call La Guardia, who was a diminutive man, “little flower,” after his Italian first name of Fiorello.

Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” called La Guardia the conscience of the 1920s.

I hope Korea’s judges can sometimes act as little flowers who feel guilty about living in a cruel city.

Moreover, I have a strong wish for Korea’s political leaders to show leadership marked by patience and fortitude to overcome a national crisis that has shaken people’s trust, and touch the people’s hearts with compassion, just like La Guardia.

After one of its soldiers shot an unarmed female tourist to death during a stroll on the Mount Kumgang resort’s beach, North Korea is suspected of sinking our naval corvette the Cheonan.

Some people’s desperate efforts to prove North Korea’s innocence do not seem to be successful at all.

Repeatedly calling for “sunshine,” despite repeated and deadly provocations in the past, is not patience. Hasty demands of military retaliation are also not fortitude.

Patience without a firm aim is nothing more than submission, and fortitude that lacks a detailed and grand strategy is mere recklessness.

A firm resolution to defend the Republic of Korea as my loving homeland, not a country where justice has failed and opportunists have succeeded, must be the precondition to patience.

A long-cherished desire to bring freedom, human rights and stable livelihoods for the public in the oppressed and poor land of North Korea must be the basis of our fortitude.

Mayor La Guardia won the people’s trust with his beautiful compassion, and then he asked the people to show patience and fortitude based on that trust.

And yet, Koreans are actually in a pitiful situation where the average citizen must demand patience and fortitude from politicians.

The ship Cheonan is not the only thing that had been split into two. It is the politicians who have split the nation with their factional fights and lost the people’s trust. How can they possibly ask the people to show patience and fortitude at a time like this?

Leadership is purely a matter of trust. John Ruskin once said trust is like mother’s milk in all human relationships.

During the crisis of the Great Depression and war, La Guardia’s patience and fortitude shined, and New Yorkers adopted the two virtues their mayor tried to embody.

It was not a peaceful lamb or vicious bear; it was a pair of lions that could wait for opportunities patiently and act with firm determination to seize opportunities. Lions are, after all, the emperors of the jungle.

I believe that the 46 sailors of the Cheonan and the nine crew members of the trawler Kumyang who have passed on would wish that Koreans overcome today’s crisis with the two lions of Patience and Fortitude.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a partner of the Hwang Mok Park, P.C. and a former chief justice of the Seoul Central District Court.

By Lee Woo-keun
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