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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Burning Bright?

Let me make it clear from the outset that I, like so many people around the globe, was dismayed by the scandal of Tiger Woods' extramarital affairs and deeply disappointed in the famous golfer. I have been one of those who admired him for his superb athletic ability and extraordinary talent in playing the sport.

At the same time, however, I was amazed by the sharp and critical reaction of the general public here in America as well as in the rest of the world to what seemed to be a string of unending disclosures by the overzealous news media of Tiger's alleged adulterous affairs.

Displaying characteristic voyeurism and a penchant for scandal mongering, some newspaper and television reporters seemed to have had a field day digging up morsels of juicy tidbits as well as rumors and speculatgion day after day while self-righteous commentators and opinion leaders criticized, some even condemned, the golfer for his alleged "immoral" past. They predicted that most of the big corporations that had commercially endorsed Tiger would terminate their support for him.

But what I don't understand is this: who made Tiger Woods more than a great golfer? I mean aside from having become one of the world's richest athletes, who anointed him to be an unblemished and morally upright human being? Who made him to be a "role model," especially for the young? Who, in other words, placed him on the social and moral pedestal?

Weren't they those who are now working hard to bring him down sneering and laughing at him?

Tiger Woods himself said he is an imperfect man with all the human frailties and shortcomings. I don't think he asked or behaved as though he was superior to his fellow humans. Playing the game of golf better than other people does not make him a grea human being, and I think he knew it. It is true that victory after victory in professional golf tournaments, winning millions of dollars and commercial endorsements, could have possibly made him feel like a "superman" as some journalists put it. He could have become overconfident, even arrogant, as a man. But the fact remains that he did not seek to be a leader, or a model, if you will, or least of all, a great man in our society.

In this sense, the case of Tiger Woods should not be seen in the same light as that of President Clinton and even North Carolina Governor Sanford as both were leaders elected by the people. As far as I can remember, Tiger did not ask to be seen and reated as anything other than a good golfer. That doesn't, of course, mean that he should act like a jerk or oversexed fiend in his private life. After all, he is a public man--a celebrity, as they say--and as such, he had certain unwritten obligations to be a descent--not to mention law-abiding--person.

In addition to his inexhaustible energy for practicing and playing golf, he apparently has an unquenchable, strong sex drive so that he allegedly engaged in sleazy affairs with women, some of whom were reportedly "of ill-repute."

But as long as he did not violated the law, what he did in his family and with other women were private affairs and no one, especially reporters, has the right to pry into them.

As I said all this does not mean that we should try to understand or even condone his alleged adulteries. But he said he would stop playing golf indefinitely and set his family affairs straight and, above all, try to become a decent man. Indeed, I believe, more than anything he should try and grow up and be a mature person.

I am not a golf enthusiast. In fact, I have never been interested enough in the sport to be tempted to have a go at it. And yet, I said all this because I feel his talent is too great and too precious to waste because of his youthful, immature and moral misdemeanors of the past.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"We Don't Get No Respect!"

In a United Nations poll of young people in 17 nations in the Asia-Pacific region, conducted a few years ago, South Korean youths ranked last in showing respect for the elderly. The result of the poll, I remember, came as a big surprise to many in Korea that is more Confucian than China where Confucius was born and taught some 2,500 years ago.

South Korea was said to be just about the only country in the world where many people were following Confucian teachings, one of which is respect the elderly.

Korean educators and civic and religious leaders moaned and groaned over the finding and, as expected, blamed the elderly for letting down the younger generation and failing to earn their respect.

And, indeed, if young people are contemptuous of the elderly, or at least cannot respect them, they have good reasons, I believe.

The nation's politicians, divided into two groups, fight day in and day out, like a bunch of gangsters, while letting national administration and the economy go down the drain; many people, including businessmen, demonstrating their limitless greed, are out to cheat or extort money from the next guy to gain a few measly won; and last but not the least, most grown-ups violate the law routinely and without the slighrest heistation while their children look on.

Nearer to the problem that affects young people, though, let us take a look at the way we teach our childresn.

A majority of parents are said to be spending millions of won for their children's extracurricular studies in cram schools so that they can beat others into a better university. In the process, they unintentionally plant the seeds of distrust and contempt for schoolteachers in the minds of their children. The parents are, in effect, telling their childlren that their teachers at school are not good enough.

While we are doing this, then, how can we turn around the ask our chilldren to respect their elders in general and teachers in particular?

A great irony, however, lies in the fact that we, grown-ups, are doing all these things for the well being of our own children and grandchildren, and yet, these are precisely the things that cause us to lose respect in the eyes of the young.

But a more serious problem is the anachronistic--and to a large extent, irrelevant--Confucian idea that young people should respect the elderly blindly. Respect, needless to say, is something that everyone should earn by behaving correctly in public and living a respectable life. To put it another way, just because one is old, one cannot and should not expect the young to respect him or her. For as someone once said, "Wisdom does not always come with age. Sometimes, age comes by itself."

Nevertheless, our customs and tradition, formed by Confucianism over centuries, still demand that the young treat the old with respect. The Korean language, which we use to form our thoughts and communicate with each other, also forces us to show respect for the elderly: we have to use the honorific form when we address someone older than us.

Incidentally, I have seen some old people demanding that the young give up their seats for them in areas other than those designated for the elderly in the subway or city buses. Of course, they have no right to do so; it is up to young people to concede their seats voluntarily out of consideration for the aged and weak.

This demand for respect creeps into close personal relationship as well. Senior, or sonbae, as they called in Korean, at university or in the workplace, for instance, expect varying degrees of respect from their juniors, or hubae, regardless of their position or ability. This is one of the serious drawbacks in our country that is trying to become an advanced society where individual ability and drive--and not age--count.

Despite our customs and language, we are now living in a free, open and democratic society. And whether we like it or not, the attitude of young people is changing rapidly, often veerying away from traditional values, in time with worldwide trends.

Therefore, instead of shouting, "we don't get any respect any more," older people must do their part, face reality and give up the outdated notion that they deserve respect just because they are old.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear Friends

Noticing that I have not posted any article for nearly two months, you may have wondered what had happened to me. I bet some of you might have wondered if I was seriously ill or even dead--or if something had happened to my family. Well, nothing of the kind happened, although I must admit I have been running out of steam of late. During the long absence from this blog, I made a trip to my native South Korea. I then visited Hawaii for a week on my way back.

The world, needless to say, still remains a fascinating place with lots of interesting and strange, even absurd, events taking place every day, and I have felt the urge to express my two cents worth. But I was too busy with family and friends to sit down in front of a computer and write down what I saw and share my thoughts with you.

Anyway, I am now back in the saddle, in a manner of speaking, and trying to adjust my life to my old routine, posting an article from time to time in the hope that you will continue to visit this site as you have done in the past.

In closing, I would also like to extend season's greerings to all my friends.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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