Society sans respected elders
When Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, the nation’s first Roman Catholic cardinal, who was a signature guiding star of South Koreans in their crusade for democracy for three decades, passed away 10 years ago in 2009 at the age of 86, many people lamented that they had lost their final “respected elder.”
George Bernard Shaw (18561950) said in his 1903 play, “Man and Superman,” that “the more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.”
The Irish playwright’s words apparently mean that having a sense of humor and knowing good from evil are the very basis of the sense of respect for others.
Already 18 years ago back in 2001, a Unicef survey found the then “surprising and shocking” result that young Koreans were losing the feeling of respect for others, notably for elderly people.
And the growing generation’s respect for the elderly has been rapidly decreasing in our society, as indicated by young people’s increasing use of the term, “kkondae,” referring to mostly elderly people who are authoritative, stubborn and lenient on themselves while hard on others, clinging to the past and being critical of those from later eras, according to a Korea Times report.
The “popularity” of the Korean term, kkondae, was well proven recently as it joined such Korean words as “chaebol,” “gapjil,” “ondol,” and “bibimbap” to name a few, that have become global English words, following a BBC report.
The BBC recently introduced the term as its “word of the day,” translating it as a “condescending older person, the kind you often find in a middle- or upper-management position.”
“The kkondae title is usually attributed to men and almost always used as an insult, pointedly calling out supervisors who are quick to dole out unsolicited advice and even quicker to demand absolute obedience from their juniors.” the British broadcaster added.
Personally, I have the experience of being called “kkondae.” I was riding an ascending escalator at Seoul Station when a young man in his 20s, maybe, was running up it. I told him, “Hey, don’t run. Walk. Why don’t you see the warning on the poster?”
Looking down at me, he said, “So, you are called kkondae,” and he ran away. I was speechless, asking myself, “Was I wrong?” I am confident that I was not kkondae. The youngster was rude and was ill-bred.
To date, kkondae used to be a student slang in its early days decades ago to label unforgiving, stubborn and strict teachers or fathers. Now kkondae is widely used outside the classroom to describe the type of person whom nobody wants to become in their daily lives, particularly in workplaces.
A signature kkondae is a person who loves to use sophistry like “nae-ro nam-bul,” a coined Korean term of a four-syllable abbreviation meaning, “If I love someone, it is a romance; but if others do, it is an affair.”
In this rapidly aging society, its elderly members should be arbiters of experiential knowledge, irrespective of their social status or educational qualifications.
They have the responsibility, traditionally, to offer the younger generation their experiences and knowledge, so that they can adopt, adapt and develop them to build more resilient and better societies now and in the days to come.
Of course, it is sad that some educated youngsters feel that they are better than these elderly members of society. Thus, they do not show any respect toward them.
However, it is our reality that the adults of this society have failed to behave as “elders” and have not won the respect of young people.
Whether it is in the leadership of the nation or in neighborhoods, older adults are in selfish conflicts, paying no attention to the negative effects their actions have on the younger generation.
What will the growing generation learn from our political leaders, who are always engaged in ugly partisan strife and only obsessed with political gain, as seen in the mounting national crisis over criminal suspicions involving newly-named Justice Minister Cho Kuk?
Who can respect social leaders, particularly political ones, who are busy mass-producing fake news for their own selfish political interest.
No one can dispute that the ugly actions of these people are greatly contributing to younger people’s loss of respect for others, especially the elderly.
It is a shame such a negative word as kkondae has become a global term. It is sad to think that the young people of today may grow up to be kkondae themselves.