Learning from our athletes
The author is an emeritus professor of journalism at Hanyang University.
The noisy Tokyo Olympics came to an end. It was a pity to see empty spectator seat due to the pandemic. But the skills of the athletes from around the world were not empty. I shared joy and sorrow as I watched athletes doing their best for the Olympic slogan, “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” The sporting event of humanity reminded the global community of the beauty of a fair world without fouls and excitement of winning and losing while coexisting peacefully.
There had been a dispute over Korea’s participation. The direct cause was Japan displaying Korean territory of Dokdo as a Japanese territory on the Olympic website. Ruling Democratic Party’s presidential primary candidates for next year’s election called for a boycott. This even include the Gyeonggi governor, the leader in polls and the former prime minister.
Between Korea and Japan there is hatred and denial. They are uncomfortable being in cognitive dissonance. According to social psychologist Leon Festinger, humans want to maintain a peaceful and balanced state of cognitive balance. Therefore, when people become psychologically unstable due to a situation that breaks the harmony in internal state, they make efforts to remove the dissonance and maintain comfortable state. Since the theory was published in 1957, many follow-up research contributed to discussions and utilizations of various ways to resolve dissonance.
However, for Korean people, resolving the cognitive dissonance with Japan is not easy. The suffering from imperial Japanese aggression is still vivid. Korea gained independence and liberation by getting out of the vicious Japanese colonial rule.
It is only fair that Koreans sharing the novelist’s cry are convinced by the sharp argument of boycotting the Olympics. Japanese government and politicians encourage the dissonance by never stopping provocative language and argument to upset Koreans for their domestic political purposes.
But it is time to deviate from inflammatory solution for dissonance. We don’t have to go that far. We can learn from confidence and self-esteem that Korean athletes showed in the Olympics. Cho Gu-ham lost in the judo final after fighting for 9 minutes and 35 seconds and lifted the hand of the Japanese opponent. Archer Kim Je-deok shouted “Go, Korea!” in Tokyo. Kim Yeon-koung showed the positive leadership by leading the volleyball team with no regret. High jumper Woo Sang-hyeok was pleased to set a Korean record and got inspired to prepare for the future after he was ranked fourth. Gymnast Shin Jae-hwan is going to train for the world championship after eating for three days and sleeping for three days. The young Koreans taught us the value of sweat they shed in the process as much as winning or losing, where dissonance is fateful. It was the appearance of new generation, value and culture and a change.
Liberation Day is the time when dissonance with Japan becomes more evident. But it is the time to break the dissonance. We need to stop driving Korea-Japan relations into the dead end with language encouraging exclusive nationalism such as boycott, indigenous Japanese collaborator, or the song of the bamboo sword. If Korea had boycotted the Olympics, the archery legend of winning five out of six gold medals and winning the group female category nine consecutive times wouldn’t have happened.
You can learn from archery where the system was improved so that “skill” is the only qualification for the national team, rather than academic and regional backgrounds, past records and authority, selfishness and monopoly or taking a side. We need to learn wisdom from the fair system where satisfaction and self-esteem, fair competition for the confidence and efforts of the athletes are guaranteed. The presidential candidates of the ruling and opposition parties who have already engaged in mud fights must especially keep that in mind.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.