Slow down and look where you’re going

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Slow down and look where you’re going


A few days ago, Suseo Police arrested a 73-year-old man surnamed Kim for robbery. If you think about it, Kim is an amazing old man. He allegedly climbed up an apartment building, hanging on the gas pipes on the exterior wall. He not only entered the second floor but also units on the fifth and sixth floors. He claimed that he neither smokes nor drinks and enjoys mountain climbing. When offered a cup of coffee, he turned it down, saying that caffeine was not good for the health. Kim was certainly not making good use of his health, but in a way, he is a typical Korean, with strict professionalism, self-management and passion for his work.

Kim could be compared to the old fisherman in German writer Heinrich Boll’s “Anecdote to the Decline of the Work Ethic.” In the story, an old fisherman is taking a nap after fishing in the morning, and a tourist from town asks why he isn’t fishing more. The tourist speculates that if he were to work more, he could make a fortune. The fisherman asks, “What then?” The tourist responds, “Then, without a care in the world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun and look at the glorious sea.” “But I’m already doing that,” says the fisherman. “I sit here without a care in the world and doze - it was only your clucking that disturbed me.” The tourist leaves with envy, not pity, for the fisherman.

As we watch how Greece responds on the brink of national default, we may imagine that the fisherman was Greek. Ancient Greek philosophers considered relaxation an “act closest to the gods.” Modern Greeks, however, enjoyed their leisure too much and may have been too greedy to be close to the gods.

Many Koreans resemble the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” The Red Queen runs constantly just to stay in the same place. If you stop, you fall back. To get ahead, you have to run twice as fast.

Though the foreign media compare Greece’s failings to Korea’s speedy recovery, I doubt whether such a draconian work ethic deserves the compliments. Koreans work the longest hours and have highest suicide rate among members of the OECD.

Nowadays, Koreans increasingly envy the Greek fishermen. I can’t agree with such a view completely. But competition never sleeps, and it is rather tiring to be constantly on the run as the Red Queen was. You should at least know which direction you are going. And you might as well enjoy the scenery along the way.

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

By Noh Jae-hyun
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