[Viewpoint] Warriors or knights?The early medieval period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the births of new kingdoms was full of violence and cruelty. The mentality and culture of the people were declining as the glories of the fallen empire faded. So the period is called the Dark Ages. Medieval kingdoms and lords competed to expand their influence, and the campaigns were often led by warriors. These warriors were brave in battles, but they were overly combative, barbaric and unsophisticated. The lords wanted to raise them as mature community leaders.
So when boys from aristocratic families turned 7, they were sent to the household of a respectable lord and started training. They served the lord’s family and learned courtesy, culture, academics, religion and falconry as pages. When they turned 15, each of them would be assigned to a knight and be trained as his squire. They not only learned battle tactics and martial arts but also acquired the spirit of honesty, tolerance and courtesy.
Moreover, they learned to listen to the weak and respect and care for them. After completing the training, and upon turning 21, they were admitted into the ranks of the knights in a conferring ceremony called the “accolade.” They were given baths to make sure they were clean before being knighted. Then, they went through a solemn religious ritual and knelt in front of their monarch, pledging courage and loyalty.
Once a young man became a knight, he was obliged to serve a vassal of conflict but also as a role model for his community. Chivalry was the code of conduct in their lives. To them, the general dignity of the community was more important than victory in battle.
Today’s society calls for warriors but does not ask for knights. Politics, business and education are driven by the objective of winning battles. No one talks about mutual respect, consideration and courtesy in the course of today’s competition. Everything is tolerated for the sake of victory.
Obviously, welfare is an important policy issue that deserves politicians’ profound attention. However, we are very uncomfortable that the issue has become the center of the political fight for next year’s general election and presidential election next year. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition party has the mutual respect, care and tolerance for a round-table discussion. I am anxious that the welfare issue is being used only as a weapon for political warriors.
Today’s education nurtures warriors, not knights. The objective of winning the wars of college admission and employment justify all the problems that stand in the way, and college students are more interested in obtaining credits and diplomas rather than actually acquiring knowledge. Instead of gaining a deep understanding in their areas of specialization, students are more eager to expand skill sets to add to their resumes.
Rather than improving their language skills to think and express themselves in English, they are more interested in boosting their TOEFL or TOEIC scores. College students’ bookshelves are filled with motivational books on how to win competitions. However, they are not interested in serious and profound reflection on their way to success. Colleges and universities are not trying to teach these either.
Of course, an emphasis on competition and victory is not always negative. Competition and victory is an innate instinct and a source of vital energy. Victory is often packaged as success. Yet, there is too little room for contemplation and reflection on what success means in one’s life and what kind of path an individual should take. Robert Lewis claims in his book “Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood” that medieval chivalry should be the alternative to our competition-driven modern society.
A society that raises warriors, not knights, will end up in another Dark Age.
Politicians should practice the spirit of respect and tolerance, colleges and universities should educate students to listen to and care for others, and the media should lead the tradition of chivalry.
The entire society needs to work together to end the barbaric age of warriors and prepare for the advent of a graceful age of knights.
*The writer is a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication of Korea University.
By Ma Dong-hoon