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[Serendipity] Golden Rule

By Kim Hoo-ran

Published : Jan. 4, 2024 - 17:20

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It was a hectic year-end. Flying 13 hours for a family reunion, doing last-minute gift shopping and getting together with extended family for Christmas dinner kept me busy with scarcely any time to think about the coming year, much less the requisite New Year’s resolutions.

Coming up with New Year’s resolutions, as perfunctory as they may be, for me is an opportunity to ruminate on how I want to live the next 12 months. Of course, by February, I would come to realize that I had bitten off too much to chew.

I was recovering from way too much food and too much fun when an alarm on my phone alerted me to breaking news from Seoul, several time zones away. Actor Lee Sun-kyun had been found dead in an apparent suicide, the one-line news with "[URGENT]" in front of it said.

The actor, best known for his role as a wealthy patriarch in the Oscar-winning “Parasite,” had been under police investigation for several weeks for alleged use of illegal drugs. The news of the alleged drug use broke while the matter was still under internal investigation, meaning a formal probe had yet to begin.

From then on, it was no-holds-barred reporting on what was characterized as a scandal. Adding flames to the fire were reports that a woman who works at a room salon, a type of nighttime entertainment establishment, had been involved. The revelation that Lee had filed a complaint against two women for blackmail further fanned the fire with not only YouTubers and tabloids covering the latest development, but major news outlets as well.

The coverage of the case was excessive.

Media outlets reported what Lee was alleged to have said during questioning. Online, YouTubers who specialize in celebrity scandals and shenanigans took free rein as they “reported” on allegations and rumors alike.

The actor's appearances at the Incheon Metropolitan Police Headquarters became public affairs with reporters waiting for him. It would later be learned that Lee’s lawyers had asked that the actor’s appearance for the third round of questioning be unannounced to the media, a request that was denied. What would become his last questioning lasted for 19 hours overnight, with Lee emerging from the police building on Christmas Eve.

The public consumed every morsel of “news” with a voracious appetite, as media outlets, bloggers and YouTubers supplied an endless stream of regurgitated “news,” driven by a frenzy over clicks and likes.

On Dec. 24, even the typically staid public broadcaster KBS joined the bandwagon, airing an audio file of a private conversation between Lee and the room salon worker.

Lee was found dead three days later.

The news of the death of Lee, on the cusp of a new phase in his career as an internationally recognized actor, filled me with remorse. I am sure many who had searched the internet for the latest on the case motivated by little more than curiosity and hunger for salacious gossip also feel remorseful.

How he must have felt, being hounded like that, his private life opened up to public scrutiny.

Would we want the same scrutiny over our alleged errors, to be hung out to dry?

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you,” says the Bible.

Known as the Golden Rule, this principle of reciprocity is found in most religions, either as a positive or negative exhortation. The Buddhist Tripitaka says, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Confucius, in the Analects, says, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

If you have yet to come up with a resolution for the New Year, give the Golden Rule a thought. It is simple and straightforward. Whether one can consistently practice it is another matter, but right now, it seems we all need a bit of kindness -- to others and to ourselves.

Kim Hoo-ran is the culture desk editor at The Korea Herald. – Ed.