In a poem by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) a university professor gives us her meditation on his words in an article for the Kyeongyang magazine. A literal translation of the poem from Korean: " I know that it was only good fortune on my part that I lived longer than my friends. Last night in a dream I heard the voices of my friends. 'The strong are the ones who live.' Thereupon I hated myself."
During Nazism and Hitler's hold on Germany, he exiled himself from his home country of Germany. This poem was censored in Korea during the dictatorship which ended in 1988. The young people in Korea during the dictatorship recited often these lines of the poem, experiencing a feeling of guilt for not suffering the pain of others.
The professor recalls the suffering experienced by Brecht which came from his own history. She also remembers the suffering of many in Korea and the debt that we have towards them. We may not have the sorrow that Brecht had for the past but it is part of our history and are content and satisfied being alive. However, we are faced with another war like situation, with which for the most part we are ignorant.
She remembers a student in her class who with cancer is paralyzed from the waist down. How are we to understand this? "Are you going to die right away?" No, she tells the young man to do everything possible to fight against the sickness but she is filled with regret and sorrow.
Recently we have heard about abuse of servicemen by their commanding officers. The strong oppressing the weak is something we are familiar with. But many who perpetrate this violence see it as necessary to maintain order in society and the right they have from their position. A politician's sexual harassment on the golf course was dismissed by him as just some friendly pats that he would use with his daughter and granddaughters. What allows this kind of violence against the weaker elements of society?
Not important to select a few of these abuses of the weaker members of society for it enters into all the facets of our life. We kowtow to the strong in society and turn to the weaker ones and act similarly. A fact of life, and is it not the reason many strive with all their energy to become strong in society? They don't want to be neglected.
However, our dignity does not come from our rank in society. Where do we stand? Are we satisfied with little victories, and become filled with pride and become depressed with failures? Do we compare ourselves with others, see the different ranks in society and desire to be part of the elite? Why is pain so often the lot of the weak and marginalized?
A healthy embarrassment comes when we take upon our self the sacrifice, the tears, and sadness of the weak of society. We need to identify with those pushed to the sides. If we are not to be shamed with disgrace we have to keep our eyes wide open and look around us. We must see and see again whether or not the exercise of legitimate power takes place over the wounds of others. Reflecting on the life that we live is making us fully alive, and we will be living with less shame.