In life, quality over quantity matters
According to the law of conservation of energy, the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time. Over drinks, my friends and I used to come up with jokes based on this idea. For example, someone would claim that a tall man would have a small nose, while a short man would have a big one. We also discussed the law of conservation of character. A person is neither an extrovert or an introvert, but as one grows older, the other side of the tendency is eventually revealed.
I agreed with the idea as I interacted with my aging parents. My father is 93 years old, and he had been a quiet person throughout his life. But suddenly, he has become talkative. In contrast, my mother, who is known for her lively personality, has become calm and quiet. Sometimes, she just looks out the window for hours, and the change in her behavior is troubling.
Andrew Niccol’s film “In Time” has an interesting premise related to aging. In the future, everything is translated as time, not money. Everyone stops aging at age 25 and is given one year of “living time.” People have to work hard to earn time in order to avoid death. The rich get to enjoy eternal youth, as they have thousands of years to live. The movie begins as a man who has 100 years of life left transfers his time to a poor young man and chooses death because he could not find any more meaning in life.
Many people find their remaining time in life painful. Korea has the highest suicide rate in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. The suicide rate of people over 80 is more than five times that of those in their 20s.
Nowon District has the largest population of seniors in Seoul, with over 57,000 people aged 65 and older. It also has the city’s highest number of people who receive the basic living subsidy at 27,000 people and the lowest level of financial independence. Things changed when the district chief promoted a project to prevent suicide. A suicide prevention regulation was adopted for the first time, and 60,000 residents were tested for depression. Community leaders began offering counseling to seniors and low-income families. Thanks to these efforts, the number of suicides fell from 180 in 2009 to 128 in 2011.
Other autonomous local governments should benchmark the Nowon District programs in order to make life a little easier for people who are struggling. What is painful is not the amount of time we have left but what you have to go through during that time.
by Noh Jae-hyun
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.