Although the famous maxim says “Seeing is believing,” it is amazing how many precious things in life are, in fact, invisible. Take air, for example. Without air, we cannot survive and will die in a few minutes, yet we take it for granted because it is invisible. If something is not visible, we forget about it and do not appreciate it fully.
Not only is air invisible, but so is wind. We enjoy a pleasant cool breeze, but we cannot see it. “Who has seen the wind?” British poet Christina Rossetti writes. “Neither I nor you / But when the leaves hang trembling / The wind is passing through.” Or we can feel the wind when it softly touches our skin and gently tickles our hair. Although invisible, the wind cools down our bodies and evaporates our sweat. But we take it for granted and do not appreciate it much.
Brotherhood and friendship are invisible and equally precious too. So are loyalty and trust between friends. We treasure brotherhood, friendship and loyalty, not only in our society but also in the international community. Having good friends and allies is extremely important for the survival and prosperity of a nation, especially if the nation faces military threats from its neighboring countries or depends on international trade.
Caring is invisible and precious as well. If we are considerate and thoughtful, our society will surely be a better place to live. If we care about others, we will not hurt or hate others. Instead, we will become affectionate, helpful people. Appreciation, too, is invisible. We should appreciate others’ help and be grateful to them. We should also appreciate what we have, what we are, and what we do. Though invisible, appreciation and gratitude are imperative in life. Instead of being unabashed ingrates, we should appreciate others’ help and try to return the favor later.
God, too, is invisible. Unlike Greek gods, the Christian God forbade people from making images of him, so he can exist in our minds only. We do not see God, but we believe in him. God does not need to be seen. Though invisible, God is always there, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Naturally, our faith is invisible too.
Hope and happiness, too, are invisible and precious. Hope makes us sustain and gives us the strength to move on. Without hope, so many people must have despaired and committed suicide. Immigrants and political refugees, too, decide to migrate, hoping for a better life when they are not happy in their homelands. Happiness is invisible, even though it is so important and even a prerequisite for life. So are honor, credibility and respect.
Love is invisible too. Yet there is nothing more important than love in our lives. Love is so tender that it can absolve and mitigate everything. At the same time, love is so strong that it can break our hearts or make us strong enough to die for someone we love. They say the three most important things in life are birth, love and death. Among them, only love is invisible. Between our birth and death, it is love that sustains us because during our whole lifetime, we live, loving others and being loved by others.
At the same time, there are bad things that are also invisible. Antagonism comes first. We antagonize someone who is not one of us, who is different from us and does not agree with us. Antagonism is derived from factionalism, and indeed we witness extreme factional antagonism in our society every day. Though invisible, antagonism and factionalism chip away at our society with invisible discrimination.
Then comes hate. We cannot see hatred, but it is rampant in our society already. The rich and the poor, the young and the old, conservatives and progressives -- each denounce and condemn the other as nothing but abominations. Also, we abhor those who are better than us and thus become jealous and angry.
Ideologies are also invisible, and yet deadly. Dogmatic ideologies make us turn against our parents and teachers, and kill our political opponents without remorse. On the Korean Peninsula, ideologies have divided not only the North and the South, but also the East and the West. Presently, having a menacing communist country up above, South Korea too is naively and pathetically divided by political ideology: capitalism vs. socialism, and liberal democracy vs. people’s democracy.
Unfortunately, we tend to disregard invisible things and value visible things only. We pursue physical beauty, not spiritual beauty, and thus become hopelessly shallow and superficial. In our society, men go after pretty women and women seek handsome men. If you are not good-looking, therefore, you have virtually no future in South Korean society -- no girlfriend or boyfriend, and no job either because you will most likely fail in job interviews. People vote for good-looking politicians too, regardless of their abilities. Perhaps that is why cosmetic surgery is rampant in South Korean society.
Nevertheless, we should ponder the significance of the invisible things that are much more important than having a good appearance.
By Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine. -- Ed.