A softer side

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A softer side

Park Geun-hye was in a simple dress and sang “Saemaeul Song.” It was composed and written by her father, Park Chung Hee, and symbolized modernization, the buzzword of the ’70s. Her father, her sister Geun-yeong (a music student at Seoul National University), her brother Ji-man (a student at Choong Ang High School), and cousins Kim Jong-pil and Jang Deok-jin sang together. This took place at the 80th birthday celebration for Park’s maternal grandmother Lee Kyung-ryeong on January 22, 1975. Lee was the mother of First Lady Yuk Young-soo, who had been assassinated by Mun Se-kwang five months earlier on August 15, 1974.

Park was studying in France after graduating at the top of her class from Sogang University’s engineering school with a major in electronic engineering when her mother was assassinated, and she returned home and began serving as the First Lady. In her memoir, she wrote, “I was like the living dead. My period stopped and immune system declined” because of the shock. At the birthday party, Park Chung Hee sang “One-sided Love.” It was his lament for losing his wife. Geun-yeong sang “House of Doves.” But 22-year-old Park Geun-yeong couldn’t afford to reveal her emotions even at this private event. The 22-year-old acting first lady was overwhelmed by pressure.

President Park Geun-hye messed up her New Year’s news conference last week. She failed to sever her tie to the aides known as the “three doorknobs,” who control access to her. She maintained her people and her unyielding style. She is no longer the emotional leader who sang “Person Who Brings Happiness” during the campaign two years ago. She has returned to the “Saemaeul Song” mode of 40 years ago. While she said at the news conference that she “regretted” the scandal over behind-the-scenes string-pulling at the Blue House, it was not a sincere apology. She put a greater emotional distance between herself and an angry public. As a result, her solid 40 percent approval rating collapsed.

If the Park Geun-hye administration wants to recover, it needs more than simple changes. Above all, its rigid style must yield. She needs to show empathy for the pain and suffering of others. Only then will the wall separating her from the public come down. She should admit her shortcomings, reform herself. She should change.

All living things are soft. In order to renew herself, Park needs to soften up. The healthier the snake, the more often it sheds its skin. The moment a snake stops molting, the skin becomes a prison. An inflexible person does not understand the paradox that sometimes one must give up the most valuable thing to survive.

When Steve Jobs was alive, he would look in the mirror every day and ask himself, “If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?” He once said, “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates” because he thirsted to learn, to reform himself, to accept change.

How did Socrates come to personify the virtues of transformation? He participated in the Peloponnesian War, fighting for Athens against Sparta in the fifth century BC. Socrates lived through a hell in which people ate human flesh to survive. One day, Athenians saw Socrates staying up through the night, lost in thought. The realization that “the unexamined life is not worth living” may have been attained from the despair and chaos of aporia, ancient Greek for a deep philosophical puzzle.

Whenever the Lee Myung-bak administration was in trouble, Blue House aides Park Heong-joon and Lee Dong-Kwan came forward. In order to secure a 40 percent approval rating - the minimum required for smooth administrative operations - they advocated “strengthening the moderate.” They aggressively tried to avoid the disadvantage of being considered “an administration for the wealthy.” Aside from Park and Lee, other aides also stressed that the administration would “embrace the moderates with flexible policies” whenever given a chance.

But President Park has no one like Park or Lee. The Blue House secretaries are waging an internal fight around her, and the pro-Park faction and anti-Park faction are pitted against each other within her own ruling Saenuri Party. Considering all this, Park needs to break through the crisis on her own, but it is not easy. She is in aporia.

Just as with Socrates’ Athens 2,400 years ago, Korea has experienced external invasion and a civil war. While the country was liberated, it has remained divided for seven decades. It is a history of abnormality, anomaly. The only way to attain a transformation is through the flexibility that removes the boundary between you and me. Only then, can one read the changes of the world, reform oneself, reconcile with those with different interests and accomplish integration.

Only a flexible leader can make a creative approach beyond the rhetoric of power and reach a milestone in inter-Korean relations. President Park has three years left. She needs to get over herself. Park needs to forget the “Saemaeul Song” and go back to a softer self who sings “Person Who Brings Happiness.”

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 21, Page 31

The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Ha-kyung

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