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[Op-Ed] The Power of Individual Will

Posted February. 01, 2010 07:48,   


When launching the Saemaeul (New Community) Movement in April 1970, President Park Chung-hee emphasized self-reliance. “A farmer who keeps complaining as if others are responsible for his poverty will never stand on his own two feet even over hundreds of years,” Park said. He showed his strong commitment to improving the living conditions of farmers, but repeated the message, “Even the nation cannot help lazy people, and supporting people who have no will for improvement and success is waste of money,” according to Park’s then Chief of Staff Kim Jeong-ryeom. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the campaign, a project that proved so successful that is considered a model for community development campaigns in other countries. The Saemaeul Movement worked because the campaign adopted a method to help farmers and farming villages that work harder than others, and encouraged hard work.

The Park administration’s principle of “The government helps those who help themselves" was found in other areas as well. The evaluation criteria for export promotion policy were the export records of companies. President Park gave preferential treatment to those with the strong spirit of self-reliance and independence, even when selecting patriots and military veterans entitled to government assistance. The “Park Chung-hee paradigm” had side effects, but its spirit of self-reliance, or “spirit of development,” transformed the majority of the public into a strong economic player that enabled robust economic growth and reform of the people’s perception, said Jwa Sung-hee, the head of the Gyeonggi (Province) Research Institute.

Yang Ik-joon, 31, will make history when he is appointed the country’s first physically disabled prosecutor after graduating from the Judicial Research Training Institute next week. His career path brings to mind the meaning of challenge. Yang was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from the second floor of his home when he was a high school senior. He then needed a wheelchair to get anywhere, but did not give up. Yang did everything he could to achieve his dream. His invincible spirit of challenge made him Korea’s first wheelchair-bound prosecutor after he graduated from college and passed the bar.

Following the country’s democratization in 1987, a growing trend is for Koreans to blame others, society and the environment rather than emphasizing individual responsibility. The government and political circles are also guilty of following this trend. But the more people think this way, the more their country will deteriorate rather than prosper. Yang said, “I hope that people in difficult situations don’t think that they can never succeed. If they set a plan and implement it in phases without fail, they will get what they want.” His comments should serve as a lesson for people who always blame others for their own failures. The spirit of self-reliance is beautiful, while the power of a strong spirit is truly enormous.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)