Koreans are known to be people of “jeong” or affection. However, many Koreans do not seem to be thoughtful or considerate. Perhaps jeong does not encompass thoughtfulness or caring about others. Nevertheless, it is necessary to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee writes, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Unfortunately, we seldom try to see things from other people’s points of view. Instead, we tend to see everything from our point of view and disapprove of anything different from us. Therefore, we easily become judgmental and critical of others, and label them as our enemies. Take our politicians, for example. They never seem to try to understand their political opponents or dissidents, and just treat them as if they were mortal enemies.
The Korean press is also sharply divided into two factions that relentlessly criticize each other these days. Newspapers and television news report the same incident with entirely different interpretations and opposite perspectives. Once again, Lee points out in the abovementioned novel, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” People who believe they are absolutely right seldom put themselves in other people’s shoes. To such people, Lee also says in the novel, “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in another.” That is to say, if you cling too much to dogma or self-righteousness, it is even worse than alcoholic intoxication.
Hollywood movie “The Change-up” (2011) teaches us to look at things from another person’s perspective. In the movie, Dave is married with two children, and Mitch is a single man with a promiscuous sex life. Discontent with their own situation, they envy each other. One day, the two get drunk. While urinating in a fountain in a park, they jokingly wish to switch their situations. Suddenly, lightning strikes and their bodies are switched by magical powers.
They come to realize that each other’s life is not what it seems. They try to change back to their previous lives, but the magic fountain has been removed from the park. Mitch, who is in Dave’s body, learns to take responsibility for a wife and children as a husband and father. At Dave’s workplace, he learns how to work full-time as a lawyer. Gradually, Mitch becomes a responsible, organized person who is trustworthy.
On the other hand, Dave, who is tired of taking care of his babies and helping his wife with house chores, initially enjoys a single man’s free life. However, he gradually realizes the importance of a family and an organized, responsible life. Amid the terribly unorganized, chaotic room of Mitch, Dave understands that single life is not what it looks like. Dave now understands Mitch’s life fully.
Another Hollywood movie, “Change,” illuminates the issue through a role-play switch. Steve, a man who treats women as sex objects, is murdered by one of his girlfriends. Although his life was full of good deeds, he is not allowed to enter heaven because of his bad behavior toward women. However, he is given an opportunity to redeem his past. Steve is sent back to this world and given a test. If he can find at least one woman who truly loves him, he can go to heaven. The problem is that Steve is reincarnated not as a man, but as a gorgeous woman named Amanda.
Miraculously, Sheila, who is a lesbian, truly loves Steve/Amanda. And through his friend, Walter, who takes advantage of women, Steve comes to realize how badly he treated women in the past. Steve now realizes what went wrong in his previous life; due to his bad behavior, no woman had ever loved him truly.
The abovementioned novel and films remind us that before we judge people, we should put ourselves in their shoes first and try to see from their point of view. If jeong does not encompass being caring, considerate, or thoughtful, what merits does it have?
Unfortunately, our politicians have a bad habit of incriminating and imprisoning their political opponents. They are not interested in different perspectives and easily become judgmental. Why do they not consider that they may be in the same predicament when they lose power? To stop the evil cycle of political vendettas, we should change.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine. -- Ed.