[Viewpoint] The lessons of Durban

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[Viewpoint] The lessons of Durban

I must confess I am a devoted fan of MBC’s hit TV singing-contest program “Survival: I Am a Singer.” I stay in on Sunday to watch the prime time evening show. When I miss it, I pay to download it online. I could wait a mere week for the free rerun, but it’s worth the money to see it as quickly as I can. It’s not just the thrill of watching a nail-biting competition among some superb singers, but the emotional uplift is what I really like about the show.

It’s heart-warming to watch true talents whip themselves up to do their best. The segments in which veteran singers pour out passion and creativity, with their names and reputations on the line, has been beyond expectations every week. Even as they compete, they encourage one another. The singer who gets the lowest score from the audience has to bow out, but no one regards him or her as a loser. Having done their best, they inevitably take their leave to a winner’s standing ovation.

The 500 or so members of the audience don’t rate the famous singers on their performances alone. They vote on the number of goose bumps that are summoned. The top-notch singers are valued for the depth of emotional arousal they deliver to the audience through their unique art of performance. And singers cannot generate such sensation all by themselves. They need the help of the best songwriters, managers, musicians and stage artists.

Last week’s competition in faraway Durban, South Africa, and the announcement that Pyeongchang won the honor of hosting the 2018 Olympic Winter Games was another thrilling contest. We still can’t let go of the big moment. We were moved by a newspaper ad congratulating Pyeongchang on its victory: “We may not have the Alps or the Rocky Mountains. But we have the will of a people. We dreamed and took on the challenge for 10 years and became stronger after two failures .?.?. But this is just the start. Our challenge from now on will be even more beautiful.”

On its third try, Pyeongchang overwhelmingly won its bid for 2018 by getting 63 out of 95 votes against contenders Munich and Annecy. The big win in the first round of voting was the Olympic committee’s response to a moving performance by “people who persevere and are patient,” said International Olympic Commitee President Jacques Rogge.

Many worked hard for the victory. Figure skater Kim Yu-na played a pivotal role. She won the gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and provided impetus for Korea’s push with Pyeongchang. She was as refined and impressive in her presentation for the bid as she is on the ice rink. In a poll by Korea Gallup asking who should be most credited for Pyongyang’s win, she came in first with 46.5 percent of the votes.

Lee Kun-hee, Samsung Group chairman and IOC member, followed with 19.5 percent, President Lee Myung-bak with 18.6 percent, bid committee head Cho Yang-ho with 9.1 percent and bid committee spokeswoman Teresa Rah with 5.8 percent.

The real winners, of course, are the Korean people. The members of the bid committee were united regardless of their status, affiliation, background, ideology, generation and gender. Political and corporate power joined hands, the left worked side-by-side with the right, the central and local governments were one, and the older and younger generations stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

As with singers giving their best performance through the best possible teamwork on a reality TV show, Koreans mobilized all of their resources to produce a stunning feat. A full 92.4 percent of the population was happy with the Pyeongchang news, underscoring how much the people had longed for and prayed to host the country’s second Olympic Games. The pure and simple truth was that in terms of enthusiasm, no city could match Pyeongchang.

The post-Pyeongchang euphoria has spilled over into politics. President Lee approval rating rose to 41.3 percent from last month’s 33.9 percent in a poll by Asan Institute for Policy Studies on the day following the announcement.

President Lee’s show of self-restraint this time may have helped his rating. If he gloated over the victory at a press conference as he did with the awarding of a multibillion-dollar nuclear reactor project in the United Arab Emirates, he may have lost favor with the public.

He may be finally realizing that modesty moves people more.

Lee recently quoted the popular TV show to encourage a sincere work ethic in public officials. “We also need that [winning] spirit,” Lee said.

The Durban victory has reminded us of what we are capable of when we unite and concentrate our capabilities. Instead of drawing lines and protecting his own team members, the president must be all-embracing. He does not represent a specific class or party. He is the president of the people. And he doesn’t have much more time on stage to prove himself.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myong-bok
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