A columnist in the Catholic Times reflects on a new word that now frequently shows up in our conversations: ja jon gam--a feeling of respect for oneself. The word we have been using, ja jon sim, also means self respect, but she believes that most of the time ja jon sim has been used negatively--being concerned that others may look down on us. The two words mean the same as in English: dignity, self pride, self esteem, but in Korean the 'sim' form of the word also has a negative connotation in most cases.
It would be good for those that are fearful of what others may think to put God in the place of the other; life would then seem very different. However, she has no difficulty with the 'sim' word. She feels that only when we pass ourselves off to others as different from what we are does it become false self respect.
She looked up 'gam' in a large Korean dictionary and couldn't find it. She does not get into the reasons for this, but it could be that the 'gam' word has only a positive connotation, and we needed a word to express this. She tells us of the benefits of having respect for oneself, crediting the success of many to this feeling of self-respect. Parents, family, teachers should be encouraged, she says, to help instill this feeling of respect. And even if it is not given by others, God can make up for this lack in our lives.
As Catholics, the way we express ourselves at times can be misunderstood as demeaning ourselves. Our language may not be psychologically proper, but it is very spiritually proper, although not readily understood without the context of Christianity. The paradoxes of Christianity--when weak we are strong, by dying we live, and the last will be first--are not easy to understand without this context; a context of humility that sees reality as it is. Korean Catholics realize we are members of Christ's body and in each Mass we pray to partake of Christ's divinity. There is no greater motive for the respect that we should have for ourselves or for humility.
The word face is often used in Korean, and 'losing face' is a very hurtful experience. We all desire to make a good impression on others but here again, we are dealing with something very natural. No one wants to look foolish or be hurt. The natural feelings that come when we lose face can be overcome by respecting who we are and acknowledging our dignity as God's loved ones.
The columnist ends with this commentary: Only when we respect and love ourselves will we respect and love the other.