According to newspaper reports, today’s young people in Korea feel lucky and proud to be born in South Korea. There is a plethora of reasons. For example, recently, the United Nations dubbed South Korea as a developed country, which suits the country in every sense.
Indeed, South Korea has now become a fully developed, advanced country both economically and technologically. South Korea’s economy is the 4th largest in Asia and 13th in the world. Its military power, too, ranks 6th out of 145 countries. Considering the relatively small size of the country, South Korea’s accomplishments are quite remarkable.
Furthermore, K-pop has enchanted the world for the past decade and so have Korean films and TV dramas. As a result, many foreign young people eagerly want to visit South Korea, and young Korean men and women are welcomed overseas, all thanks to the popularity of Hallyu. Surely, all of these phenomena are an encouraging sign of South Korea’s becoming an attractive, admirable country.
In the eyes of the older generation, especially, the change has been quite spectacular. My contemporaries and I have witnessed South Korea make a quantum leap from an unknown, destitute country to a well-known, affluent one. In the past, when we traveled overseas where few foreigners knew where Korea was located, we had virtually nothing to be proud of our country. These days, therefore, we are emotionally touched to see young Koreans who are proud of their country.
Today, South Korea is no longer a poor, weak country, but an affluent, strong country. As such, Koreans should think and act the part. Indeed, when and if you became a citizen of an economically stabilized and culturally influential country, you should think and behave accordingly.
First, you should be decent and elegant. An English maxim says, “Well fed, well bred.” Indeed, in any society when they become economically well off, people become courteous and observe propriety. If so, you, too, should be graceful and gallant.
For example, you should be gentle and benign, not petulant and fastidious when dealing with other countries, especially friendly nations. You should be subtle and delicate, and beware of losing your dignity and integrity. Sometimes, you must restrain your emotions and become rational. Other times, you should exhibit common courtesy and politeness, even when you are upset. That is what we call diplomacy.
At the same time, you do not need to take a servile attitude with an obsequious smile toward a bully country simply because it is bigger or stronger than you are. Instead, you should be stately and dignified. Only then can you earn respect from it.
Second, you should be generous toward other people and other countries. Showing magnanimity and leniency does not disgrace the country, but in fact boosts the image of the country in the eyes of the international community. When your government acts accordingly, therefore, you must applaud such a policy, instead of harshly criticizing it. In fact, generosity and tolerance are outstanding characteristics of an advanced country. In order to be a truly advanced country, you should overcome narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
Third, you should be grateful for everything that has made today’s South Korea. For example, you should be thankful to the older generation that has successfully turned the poor, weak country into an affluent, strong one through toil and tears. Without their hard work and sacrifice, you could not have enjoyed today’s prosperity. Instead of despising them for their stubbornness, therefore, you should pay respect to older people. You can never imagine what kinds of ordeals they have gone through in order to make today’s South Korea what it has become.
You should be appreciative to the US for its invaluable contribution to the making of contemporary South Korea by liberating your country from the Japanese occupation, rescuing you during the Korean War, and helping you rebuild your nation after the war with an astronomical amount of financial assistance.
Likewise, you, too, are now obliged to help developing countries. You are also supposed to return the favor you once received from the US by joining America’s new plans and help out. Some radicals instigate anti-American sentiment, calling for the pullout of the US troops from the Korean Peninsula. However, that is exactly what North Korea wants. Think about the consequences. What do you think would happen to South Korea when there were no US troops in there?
Another thing North Korea wants is everlasting enmity between South Korea and Japan. The US press recently reported that in retaliation to the summit meeting between South Korea and Japan, North Korea furiously launched another missile. South Koreans do not need to support North Korea’s interference with the South Korea-Japan relationship. Besides, maintaining good terms with Japan and the US is imperative for South Korea’s national security. China and Russia will always be allies of North Korea.
Now we are living in an affluent and advanced country. Accordingly, we should have good manners, decorum and common sense.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.