There is a saying in English, “You cannot choose your neighbor.” Indeed, it seems luck can determine whether or not you have a good neighbor. If you are unlucky, you have to either put up with your bad neighbor or move to another place. Perhaps that is why people say, “Neighborhood is everything” when renting an apartment or purchasing a house.
Like many, I have experienced living alongside a few bad neighbors in the past. When I lived in the States, for example, one of my neighbors was a college student who threw a wild party every other night, blasting music on his stereo. My unit was right above his, and my entire apartment literally shook whenever he held a party. I complained a number of times, but each time my grievances were ignored. He undoubtedly demonstrated the maxim: “Old habits die hard.”
When I lived in a ranch-style house later, I also had a bad neighbor who seldom mowed his lawn, took out the garbage or shoveled the snow on the sidewalk. As a result, his house was always messy and unclean, sticking out like a sore thumb on the otherwise nice street. The neighbors hated him because his untidy house significantly lowered the values of all the properties on the street.
Perhaps one’s worst nightmare is living next to a bully who constantly harasses or threatens one’s life. Such neighbors are rare in mature, civilized societies these days. At school, however, bullies who push other students around are quite common. The best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him and fight him. If you succumb to his threats and try to bribe him with money, you will be at his mercy forever. The bully will take advantage of your feeble mind and ask for more money until you are penniless. The spirit of a gangster is broken only when he encounters a stronger gangster. And one who relies on physical strength will become docile only when he encounters a stronger person, whether physically or spiritually.
Another way of dealing with a bully is to convince the bully that bullying is not the most beneficial way to live, and joining the rest of civilized society is actually the most rewarding.
Unfortunately, South Korea has a bad neighbor called North Korea that constantly bullies her with various threats. Recently, North Korea announced that it would nullify the armistice agreement that suspended the Korean War, and that it was fully ready to launch an all-out war against the South with nuclear weapons. We know that North Korea is making such threats to secure an advantageous position for itself when negotiating with the States, to protest the new rounds of U.N. sanctions, and to stop the ROK-U.S. joint military exercises. In addition, North Korean politicians childishly want to flex their muscles as a mighty nuclear state. In the midst of all the threatening language, we know that North Korean politicians are simply instigating a verbal war, since actual war would be extremely costly.
Nevertheless, North Korea has gotten on our nerves this time, and we are worried our neighbor may stage political shows by attacking Yeonpyeongdo Island or a Korean naval ship again, or by terrorizing the citizens of Seoul by bombing a crowded downtown building. If such a tragic event were to occur again, North Korea sympathizers in South Korea would once again take side of the North, blaming South Korea and the United States for “fabricating” an attack. Eventually, South Korea will become hopelessly divided, torn and chaotic.
To make matters worse, a considerable number of South Koreans seem to naively believe that the best way to maintain peace is by being submissive and giving money to North Korea.
“Do you want another war on our soil?” they cry out. “If not, we need to pacify them by all means, including giving them money.” But begging for peace through bribery is neither wise nor right. Giving money is like applying medicine for temporary relief, not curing the disease. Moreover, what would we ultimately gain from giving the North Korean government astronomical amounts of money? Everlasting threats and harassment! You can never placate North Korea with bribery.
We used to think that we were surrounded by unfriendly neighbors who invaded our country in the past or sent yellow dust in the spring. Today, however, we realize that North Korea is the worst neighbor we have ever had ― a bad neighbor that threatens us with nuclear bombs in this small peninsula. As a nation, we cannot move out and thus have to cope with the extremely hostile neighbor every day.
It is a relief that President Park and the Ministry of National Defense firmly declared that South Korea would not tolerate any provocations from the North. In order to break free from bullying by a bad neighbor, we need to stand up to him. Living with a bad neighbor is tough and rough already. But we must do our best to protect our family from the bully next door.
By Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. He can be reached at email@example.com. ― Ed.