Words take on different meanings in the cultures in which we live. Words also are made to say whatever we choose: expanded or reduced according to our context and philosophy. Paternalism in our age is a big negative. On the opinion page of the secular Chosun Ilbo newspaper the columnist gives us a secular understanding of what a democracy should mean and why the era of heroes has come to an end. He makes some interesting comments about two individual leaders who have made a big impression on the Korean citizens. One is Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and the other was Pope Francis.
After the Sewol tragedy we realized our indifference to safety precautions. Frequent corruption of high ranking officials and seeing the inconsistency in our politics we have fallen into grief, despondency and lethargy preparing us to receive these two individuals with a surprising amount of enthusiasm.
Coincidentally, they both where on the stage at the same time. The movie Myeongnyang opened on July 30th breaking all box office records in our movie history. Pope Francis was in Korea for five days from August 14th. He went out to embrace the sick and those hurting showing us a man of faith going beyond religion and the denominations and inspiring many within society.
Admiral Yi Sun-Shin is one of Korea's great war heroes. He had an undefeated naval record usually against insurmountable odds. His most remarkable victory occurred at the battle of Myeongnyang where he defeated the Japanese. This is the battle that took place in 1597, and portrayed in the movie by that name. He remains one of the great leaders and exemplary human being.
These two leaders says our columnist one sacrificed for his country and the other for God. They showed us what a leader should be and he asks where does this come from? Why don't we have them in our present society?
Democracy, he says, does not permit this kind of leadership, but this is not a reason for sadness but fortunate: if we understand what a democracy is. Admiral Yi was a hero. This heroism is hidden during ordinary times but comes to the fore in extraordinary times to save the country and the people. The task of a democracy is to maintain stability at all times. A democracy wants to maintain the safety, peace, and permit the citizens to devote themselves to their work and allow the families and individuals to strive after happiness.The citizens do not elect officials to be fascinating heroes in difficult times, but to elect officials who will prevent hard times from appearing. When all is managed correctly, he says, we don't need heroes.
Pope Francis came to Korea as a affectionate father. The word pope does include the note of authority, but in the West the word has the meaning of a father. The Church is the family and the pope is the father. The reason the citizens welcomed the pope was the longing the Korea people have for an affectionate father that they found in Pope Francis, and do not find in politics, schools, family and the work place, but found in the presence of the pope.
This is the patriarchal image that comes from the feudal era. Although possessed of absolute authority and power they do not use it for themselves, their pleasure and benefit, but for the happiness and well being of the members of their society.This may be necessary in a family but it is not the quality, he says, that we want in our democratically elected leaders.
In a democracy we do not divide society into high and low. Each person's rights and equality is respected, that is why there is a contract made with the citizens; they elect their president, and representatives for four or five years and if satisfied reelect them or at the next vote opt to change them. They do not elect heroes but people who will take heed of their personal needs. When they make the contract there is no one who is looking to sacrifice their financial benefits.
A democracy and a free economic market is made by the voters and citizens. We need leaders like Yi Sun Shin and Pope Francis when we have war, disasters, tragedies and the good of the citizens is being undermined in extraordinary times. The ordinary daily democratic way of life is dry, but peaceful and secure. Desiring a hero or a person with great qualities to appear who will give us wise answers to our problems is not the way of a democratic society.