In the early years in Korea, a woman, seeing a foreigner on the same street with her, would tend to fear for her safety. This was partially due to the increased presence of soldiers after the Korean War and the distressing stories circulating at that time involving soldiers. However, these days foreigners are no longer a problem but rather other Koreans. A columnist in the Korean Times mentioned that when he had been out late one night, riding his bycycle and had stopped to check his head light, a woman walking in front of him quickly started to run, thinking the writer had some evil intentions.
The topic of his column was the lack of trust in Korean society. The problem, contrary to what one might expect, has nothing to do with national security or similar issues requiring a high level of trust but simply citizens trying to know the truth of what is being said and what is not being said. A South Korean Navy patrol boat sank in the western sea following an explosion on March 26th. There was no confirmation on what happened so all kinds of rumors circulated to fill the vacuum-- in this case, understandable but another sign of lack of trust.
The signs of public distrust are many: there is little trust that our faucet drinking water is pure enough to drink, so the use of bottled drinking water continues to increase. When at the supermarket, shoppers do not always find it easy to select foods without doubting their quality. Patients don't trust the doctors, students don't trust the teachers--and sometimes for good reasons since both doctors and teachers, it has been reported, have lied about their credentials.
All this uncertainty adds even more stress to what is normally present in a typical day. When we cannot easily accept what others are saying at face value, we feel compelled to work at not being deceived. Society then becomes a burden, not a help as it should be in living a joyful and productive life. Even in contemporary novels, it is difficult to find warm and genial situations depicted. Instead, we have writers who focus almost entirely on distrust, betrayal, lies, deviancy, and addiction to sex.
Is it impossible to expect a different kind of environment? We expect lack of trust in the animal world: the lamb fears the leopard, the calf the lion. It is only in the world of humankind that we can expect something different: going from distrust to trust. The writer takes the word 신 (sin) with three different meanings: 神 meaning God, 信 meaning belief and 新 meaning renewed. If we believe in God then we will be renewed. The world will be changed.