Korea depends on the little guy
I recently read “Misaeng - The One Who Is Still Not Alive,” a popular cartoon serialized on the Internet and published in three volumes. I am not a big fan of comics, but the book review podcast “Lee Dong-jin’s Red Bookstore” inspired me to read it. Yun Tae-ho, the author of “Misaeng,” spoke on the podcast and explained why he created a cartoon about office workers.
“I hate it when people say a few elites feed the masses,” he said. “Why do we have so many buildings in Seoul, so many windows, desks and lights? Each and every one of us responsible for each light [that] makes Korean society function.”
When I heard his words, I felt something burning in my chest. I didn’t completely understand my feeling, so I began reading “Misaeng.” The cartoon begins when a student who fails to become a professional go player joins a general trading company. The episodes at the office and the games of go are weaved into a fabric about how to behave at work.
“You fail to fulfill your responsibility if you present a proposal in which you don’t believe,” it reads. “A proposal should contain the energy of the writer. You are writing a proposal but are afraid that it might be selected. If the project fails, you must take responsibility.”
I took the advice to heart. If the cartoon was written in a condescending tone, it wouldn’t have won such great support from workers. What makes this cartoon so special is Yun’s loving treatment and realistic depiction of each character. The section chief has bloodshot eyes from working overtime. A timid man is always trying to please the client. A working mother is trying to do her best at work and at home. A rookie is nervous he may fall behind. A mother irons her son’s shirts while he sleeps. These are real people to whom we can relate.
If it weren’t for these “gears” almost nameless in the grand organization, how would society function? We need geniuses to develop brilliant ideas to support hundreds of thousands of people. But Korea did not become a top-10 trading country based on their efforts alone. There are the workers who stay late to revise proposals, review reports and check numbers. Others stand on the manufacturing line to enhance the quality of products. These people do their best at work, and without them, Korea couldn’t have come this far.
The next president and our CEOs should remember and respect the various faces, names and characters that make the community function. What we need now may be the politics of “Misaeng,” the administration of “Misaeng” and the management of “Misaeng.”
I send my utmost respect to those who work hard but do not feel appreciated as their invisible contributions are especially valuable.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kwon Seok-cheon