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[Opinion] Donor-Harassing Society

Posted November. 14, 2003 22:58,   


With our minds troubled by the dirty political strife over the illegal election funds scandal and sudden wealth controversy these days, we welcome the passing comfort from news of an elderly man who lived frugally and recently made a charitable donation of his life savings, along with a young man in his early 30s who saved an old man who had fallen on the subway tracks, yet later disappeared as if nothing important had happened. Thanks to these great neighbors of ours, we can persuade ourselves that the world is still worth living in all this chaos, and to go to work every morning. However, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and these good deeds were not without their accompanying annoyances.

Song Geum-jo, the 79 year old president of Taeyang Corporation, who donated 30.5 billion won in cash to Busan University last month, decided earlier this month to found an educational and cultural foundation with 100 billion won of his private funds. However, he has been harassed by many strange demands following this donation. An man swamped by his debts has asked Song to “pay off his debt for him,” a politician-to-be has asked to “become the president of his sponsor organization,” a stock market company employee has proposed that Song “increase his fortune by investing stock through him, and share the profits 50-50,” and many charities and civil organizations are now asking for support. Mr. Song, who could no longer bear all the incoming requests, ended up having to leave home for a hospital stay. It is obvious how much pain the news caused him.

I do not know what has become of our society these days. Buddhism emphasizes the principle of “Moojoosangboshi,” which means giving without expecting anything in return, which is the same as the Christian teaching of “not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Genuine philanthropists do not want to reveal their identity. However, people who receive huge donations want other people to know about the goodwill of the donor. One cannot fault these people for this impulse, but the response of others to their actions causes many problems. For example, there was one case in which following coverage of the donation by the press, an entrepreneur who donated more than ten billion won to charity faced strong opposition from his son, who holds the right of inheritance.

In spite of the lengthy economic depression, nationwide donations have increased by 150-190 percent in the last couple of years. The phenomenon of donations converging at Christmas and near the end and beginning of the year has decreased to around 60 percent according to recent statistics. The types and means of donation have been varied as well; people owning pension renting businesses are donating housing coupons to orphans who have to head up their families, while theaters and event organizers are donating percentages of the proceeds from performance tickets to their underprivileged neighbors. However, participation by the wealthy is not meeting expectations, and those who have never made donation totals 43 percent of the entire Korean population. Social consensus and consideration are necessary, as well as the promotion of a culture of donation via the establishment of related institutions that ensure the comfort of the donors’ body and mind. Harassing donors is a shame to our society!

Editorial Writer Oh Myeong-chul, oscar@donga.com