Treat others like humans, not ghosts
One evening a few days ago, I was hurrying out of Gangnam Station because I was late for dinner. In the busy street, there were “human signs” everywhere, but I pretended not to notice them. These people stood lifelessly, holding boards with ads for restaurants and academies. Pedestrians passed by indifferently, as if the people weren’t human. Though I was in a hurry, I eventually began to feel uncomfortable at the thought that I’d treated other human beings as if they were invisible. Earlier that day, I’d learned about the life story of Kim Sun-ja, 56, the first candidate on the New Progressive Party’s proportional representation list.
Kim is an irregular janitorial worker at Ulsan College. She excelled in elementary school and was at the top of her class - but her family was so poor that she had to work instead of continuing to middle school. She married at age 23, but her husband passed away when she was 40. She started working in 2003 and was paid 650,000 won a month for nine hours a day. Her wages were significantly lower than those of regular employees, so in 2006, she founded a union. Her path was full of challenges, from dismissal to protest to reinstatement to renegotiation.
Among the candidates in the general election, Kim may be the one person who connects with the public. She uses simple language to talk about real problems. Her first pledge is to install a break room for janitorial workers. Her second is to ensure workers have access to meals. As she once said, “Janitors are humans, not ghosts.” In an interview with Pressian, she said, “Some students once asked me what I want the most. I told them I’d like to be greeted when we meet. When they get jobs, they will see other janitors. I want them to remember that these people are human, just like their parents.”
Being treated like someone who doesn’t exist truly hurts. But janitors are not the only ones who are excluded, and politicians know this. So in an election season, they visit markets, asking for votes. The people there are skeptical, as they have been deceived thousands of times. Kim, on the other hand, may lack an education or career experience but many voters trust her.
A couple of years ago, a photograph of U.S. President Barack Obama fist-bumping a White House custodian went viral. I was envious of the friendly interaction between the president and the janitor. Hopefully in this general election we’ll have a few politicians who are just as real and down-to-earth.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Na-ree