Living the ‘donkey years’ in Korea
When God created the world, he gave donkeys, dogs, monkeys and humans 30 years of life. However, the donkey, the dog and the monkey pleaded that 30 years was too long and asked to live shorter lives. So God gave the donkey 12 years, the dog 18 years and the monkey 20 years of life. But man said 30 years was too short. God showed mercy and gave them the spare years from the donkey, the dog and the monkey. Thus, the man lives for 70 years. But after living 30 years as a human, the donkey’s 18 years follow. Then the man has to live like a dog for 12 years and then like a monkey for 10. “The Duration of Life” is a story by the Brothers Grimm, 19th-century German storytellers.
A few years ago, American and German scholars conducted a life satisfaction survey for different age groups on 21,000 Britons. The respondents rated how satisfied they were with life on a scale of one to seven, and the people in their 40s were the least satisfied.
Those in their early 20s had less worries and concerns and still had high hopes for the future. But the positive attitude declines with age and hits bottom at 46. Then the satisfaction begins to bounce back up and peaks at age 74. In the mid-70s, people overcome stress and burdens and learn to accept and enjoy life as it is. However, when people are still in their 40s, they live the donkey’s years, carrying burdens and feeding others while their faithful service is rewarded with kicks and blows.
The forty-somethings in Korea are defined by burdens and uncertainty. People are breaking their backs to buy houses and pay for education for their children. They are hit hardest by the plummeting real estate prices and they are exposed to the risk of becoming “house poor.”
With little preparation for retirement, they agonize over getting fired or weeded out at any time. Koreans in their 40s are those who went to college in the 1980s and fought against the militaristic authorities to attain democratization in the country. This is the generation that has lived through the foreign currency crisis and global financial crisis and is feeling economic polarization personally.
For the April 11 legislative elections, there were 8.82 million voters in their 40s, about 22 percent of the electorate. They are the largest age group. So winning their votes is crucial to become the president. In opinion polls, the voters in their 40s were divided between Park Geun-hye and Ahn Cheol-soo.
Winston Churchill said, “If you’re 20 and not a liberal, you don’t have a heart. If you’re 40 and not a conservative, you don’t have a brain.”
However, the Koreans in their 40s have too much burdens and anxiety to vote with their brains.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Bae Myung-bok