A country waiting for a man of talent

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A country waiting for a man of talent


King Seonjo of the Joseon Dynasty once complained, “It is truly difficult to handle affairs of state. I can’t get any rest because when I try to fix one evil, another arises.” Lee Yul-gok, a renowned scholar and high-ranking official, responded, “There is a clear reason for that. There is not much discipline in the government, so the officials are not really doing their jobs. They only care about themselves, so when you order them to fix something, they are reluctant to implement solutions and even create more problems.”

Lee’s analysis applies to the present day. We, too, are yearning for a sage who can change the world. We seem to have one in the form of Ahn Cheol-soo. People went crazy over him and now the ruling party, the opposition party and the members of a new party-in-waiting are hoping to benefit from his popularity.

But Ahn’s intentions are still ambiguous. He may be avoiding the people or the world. To understand his intentions, we need to refer to Confucius. When Confucius was in his 60s, he got lost while traveling around the warring states in search of Tao. He asked Chang Ju and Jie Ni - both political hermits - where the ferry crossing was. They said, “You are Confucius, you should know your direction” and “Wouldn’t it be better for you to shun the evil world instead of the people?”

Whether Ahn is avoiding the people or the world, he has made a series of drastic moves that have impressed everyone. When it was clear he would win the race for Seoul mayor, he bowed out to support a candidate with 5 percent support. Recently, he announced he would donate half of his fortune, or 150 billion won ($133 million), which he made not through illegal means but by providing free anti-virus software.

His actions are not, however, free of politics. Whether he wants to be or not, he is already a politician. He is a political leader in an era in which party politics have vanished in the absence of dialogue and the mobile revolution is ending the system of representative democracy.

We may be able to predict his next move by consulting the words of Confucius. Zi Gong, one of Confucius’ students, once said, “There is a man of talent here. Should he lay low and live in seclusion or become actively involved in politics?” The master said, “He should promote his talents. The man who does that would be a man worth waiting for.” I fear, however, that even Confucius wouldn’t be able to tell us what Ahn will do next.

*The writer is the J Editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hoon-beom
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