Just think of it as losing a chestnut

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Just think of it as losing a chestnut


Mr. K recently retired from a high-ranking position at a central government agency. He discussed his experience in public service over drinks. He said the most rewarding part of working for the administration was to come up with a policy idea and realize it. However, promotions and appointments were as crucial as policies for civil servants.

No matter how brilliant your ideas may be, you cannot implement them unless you are promoted to the right position. Mr. K said he had tasted the bitterness of being stabbed in the back. Someone had spread a conniving rumor, but his boss was convinced and demoted him to an irrelevant job a few years ago.

It was on a beautiful day of May. “I was frustrated and puzzled. I could see lilac flowers from my new office, and the beautiful spring scene made me even more upset,” he said.

A few days later, he read a collection of prose by Jeong Yak-yong, a renowned reform-minded thinker and government official in the Joseon dynasty. He was particularly impressed by a writing titled, “A world fighting over a chestnut.” It was from a letter he had sent to his son while living in exile in Gangjin County, South Jeolla.

“While taking a walk in the forest in the evening, I heard a child crying. The child was weeping desperately as if he was in great agony. I almost thought that the child was about to die. When I inquired what happened, it turned out that he picked a chestnut from a tree and someone snatched it. Well, who in the world would not cry like the child in poverty? From an enlightened state of mind, people who lost a government post, power, money, a loved one or health are just like a child who rejoices or cries over a chestnut.” (“Letters from Exile,” compiled by Park Seok-moo)

Mr. K said he had an epiphany at that moment. He was acting like the child who was obsessed with a chestnut. So he made up his mind and focused on his work. Two years later, the situation changed and he returned to a key post until ending his public career honorably.

Lately, the appointments of finance-related public corporations and councils are making news. A few days ago, the candidate registration for the post of board chairman of the Korea Exchange closed, 11 people had applied. Most of them have had their share of chestnuts. When a rumor spread that a four-term lawmaker was internally nominated, a Blue House spokesman denied any involvement. Basically, those who are eyeing for a certain position are ambitious. That’s why we want someone who doesn’t have ulterior motives.

If you don’t get appointed, you should just think of it as losing a chestnut. After all, appointments are bound to end with rejoicing from the few and sighing from the many.

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

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