Time for an attitude adjustment in Korea

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Time for an attitude adjustment in Korea


Kindness is powerful. We have heard many anecdotes about how an act of kindness has changed a life or society. Most of them are about the kindness of a service provider.

About 10 years ago, Han Won-tae was a security guard at the Seoksu branch of Seoul Bank. He was nicknamed “30 billion won man” as he was credited with 30 billion won ($25.8 million) of the branch’s 50 billion won deposits. The security guard had more customers at his desk than even the tellers. The customers were impressed by his smiles and kindness.

However, he said that he was not so friendly when he first started his job. The middle school graduate was stout and rather cranky. One day, a child cried after looking at his face. He realized that grumpiness and unkindness could mean fear to some people.

So everyday, he smiled at a mirror 100 times. He began taking notes of customers’ ideas for 20 years and studied the bank products. He repeatedly said to the customers, “Good morning, how may I help you? Is anything bothering you?” until he started to actually mean it. Thanks to the appreciation and support of the customers, he became a regular employee.

And the story continues on to Lee Cheol-hee, a boiler technician at the Industrial Bank of Korea. He is also a middle school graduate and began his career as a driver. Last year, he became a deputy branch manager, and his secret was also kindness. He was courteous and friendly to customers, even the frustrated ones. He sent sincere text messages and approached clients until they opened up to him. His clients deposited a total of 50 billion won at the bank, making him one of the most successful bankers.

We know the power of kindness. However, we are stingy about kindness and are sometimes afraid of it. Perhaps we don’t want to be the service provider. In the United States, people often hold the door open for those entering after them. And they would never forget to say, “Thank you.” We have heard this example of kindness many times.

How about in Korea? If you keep the door open, others people pass quickly without offering thanks. You might feel that the act of kindness was futile. So, Americans visiting Korea stop holding the door for others. If you find a wallet and return it to the owner, the owner may ask, “Where did the money go?” And if you return a lost cell phone, the owner sometimes says, “Did you scratch this?” So, it is easier to give up on kindness than to become a service provider.

The service user vs. service provider controversy is stirring up Korean society. What about starting a kindness movement? I mean “kindness of the service user.” The user has to be kind to the provider, using polite language, showing a smile and refraining from venting anger. This change in attitude will help reducing the discord between the user and the provider.

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

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