Consider the power of positive thinking

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Consider the power of positive thinking

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A friend of mine sent a book to my office titled “Do or Die, Don’t Give Up,” by Professor Song Jin-gu of Incheon JEI College. He has made his name as an evangelist of hope and the book’s message is clear: He wants to give hope and courage to people in despair and facing adversity.

Why did my friend send me this particular book?

It is no news that the suicide rate is extraordinarily high in Korea, the highest among Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development member countries for nine straight years. A survey showed that one in six Koreans had seriously considered suicide, and three in 100 have attempted it. So many people are living on the edge.

A few days ago, a mother in her 70s and her middle-aged daughter from Incheon burned coal briquettes and killed themselves by carbon monoxide poisoning because of extreme financial difficulties. A middle-aged man running a bakery in Busan accumulated excessive debt and hung himself. In Daegu, a mother in her 40s, who was a basic living subsidy recipient, killed herself and two school-aged daughters by burning a solid fuel. In Seoul, a septuagenarian woman threw herself off her apartment because she could not afford to pay her hospital bill. Sometimes it seems as though there is an endless line of people waiting to jump off a cliff.

Last year, 15,906 Koreans killed themselves. Every day on average, some 43.6 people ended their own lives. The means there is a suicide in Korea every 33 minutes. A more serious concern than the high number of suicides is that the rate is constantly increasing. In 1991, the suicide rate was 7.3 per 100,000 people. It increased to 14.4 in 2001 and 31.7 last year. Korea’s rate of increase is also the highest of OECD members.

In his book, Professor Song proposes that the balance of hope and despair is a zero-sum game; a gain (or loss) of hope is balanced by despair, and vice versa. In other words, when despair grows to 100, hope goes down to zero, and the person may choose suicide. The suicides of high-profile businessmen and celebrities illustrate that people make extreme choices when they lose hope no matter how rich and famous they may be.

Many of those in difficult situations live happy lives because they have hope. Song claims that people live without feeling depressed or lethargic when the emotional balance is at least 70 percent hope and 30 percent despair.

We hear more gloomy stories than heart-warming tales this holiday season. However, when we approach life with a positive attitude, we will be able to rekindle hope even amid despair. Everything depends on attitude and perspective. That may be the message my friend wanted to convey when he sent me that book.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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