OPINION

[Kim Seong-kon] With great power comes great responsibility

By Kim Seong-kon
  • Published : May 15, 2018 - 17:55
  • Updated : May 15, 2018 - 17:55
Watching the fall of quite a few prominent social, political, and religious leaders of Korea amid the #MeToo movement and the “anti-gapjil” campaign against the abuse of power, one cannot help but lament the scarcity of decent, noble men in our society.

There is an English maxim, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Unfortunately, many Korean leaders seem to think, “With great power comes great sexual dissipation,” or “With great power comes great privilege.”

It should be self-evident that poets and novelists are not supposed to physically take advantage of those who come to them for help, aspiring to become writers. Likewise, professors and teachers should not have inappropriate relationships with their students. We should never tolerate politicians and CEOs who use the power of their positions to sexually harass their staff. Pastors and Buddhist leaders also should not exploit their vulnerable believers sexually.

In fact, is it not true that they are supposed to teach the ethics and morality of the humanities, education, and religion that prohibit them from doing such despicable things? If they violate these codes, they truly are nothing but hypocrites.

In reality, however, many of our leaders in every sphere of society seem to enjoy their power indiscreetly without assuming any responsibility. It is a shame that our leaders seriously lack decency, nobility and responsibility. In such a society, the inevitable result is a great wave of sexual scandals and ruthless gapjil incidents. Indeed, how many of our leaders are completely free from accusations arising from the #MeToo or anti-gapjil movement?

An admirable leader is not one who wields his or her power at will, but one who takes care of his or her people and protects them from danger.

In fact, it is the responsibility and qualification of a leader. In that sense, leaders are like ship’s captains, who are responsible for the safety and lives of their passengers, for whom they should be ready to sacrifice themselves in times of crisis.

On the contrary, however, many of our leaders today have conjured up various excuses for their sons to be exempted from mandatory military duties. No honorable leader would do such a disgraceful, selfish thing. In his celebrated novel, “The Square,” Choi In-hoon powerfully indicts corrupt politicians who embezzle taxpayers’ money, but who are kind to their children.

He writes, “There is the daughter of a corrupt politician who appropriates national funds. However, she keeps saying that her father has always been so kind to her. Is the man a good father or a bad representative of people? There is only the selfish individual, no public figure.”

A true leader should be an altruistic, exemplary public figure, not an egotistical individual.

There are numerous movies that depict great leaders and heroes in human history. Among others, George Stevens’ monumental film “Giant” comes to mind. While watching the 1956 Hollywood epic film on TV recently, I came to lament the absence of giant figures in our society. The legendary film, in which Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean star, is about a wealthy Texan rancher named Jordan “Bick” Benedict, Jr. who finds his charming bride Leslie Lynnton during his trip to Maryland to buy a horse. He brings Leslie to his home in Texas.

Bick is like a king in his territory. Initially, Bick displays a typical trait of a male-chauvinist Texan who ignores women and disparages ethnic minorities. At first, he does not try to understand his isolated wife’s loneliness and boredom, confined as she is to a big mansion in the middle of barren land. Gradually, however, he comes to understand her and how she comes from an entirely different environment, the east coast. Under his wife’s influence, Bick also takes care of poor ethnic minorities who are suffering not only poverty but also racial discrimination.

Gradually, Bick realizes that the key to protecting his family legacy in Texas is not to stay in the throne of the Benedict Dynasty, but to protect ethnic minorities and fight for their rights. When Sarge, the racist owner of a diner, refuses to serve Bick’s Mexican daughter-in-law Juana and his mixed-race grandson Jordon, Bick stands up and fights for them. By doing it, he symbolically fights against his own former self and prejudice. Although he is beaten by Sarge, Bick gains respect from his wife and children. At the moment, Bick becomes a true “giant.”

Like Bick, a leader should not only protect his or her people, but also lead them in the right direction. If a leader drives in the wrong direction and puts his or her passengers in danger, he or she cannot be a great one. We lament the absence of great leaders in our time. A leader should always remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.”


Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and distinguished visiting professor at George Washington University. He can be reached at sukim@snu.ac.kr –Ed.