Koreans are probably one of the world’s most impatient people. They have been living in a ``Ppali Ppali’’ culture to get things done quickly. This faster, faster culture has made Korea what it is today, at least economically; but has also generated many side effects. Let’s take a few examples.
KAIST Dean Suh Nam-pyo may be the victim of his own impatience for quick results. He immediately made it a rule to run all classes in English, making the heads of both professors and students swim. Underachievers had to pay a penalty at the tuition-free state-run university. He must now ask himself whether this ``quicker, quicker” drive derailed his program for globalizing KAIST.
Now he has become a public demon in the whimsical shifting of public opinion as many Koreans are also impatient in their KAIST assessment. They had showered him with accolades, until four students committed suicide in as many months.
He can probably put KAIST in the global top league if he expects his program to produce results after his retirement, but not during his tenure. Suh and other Koreans need to manage their impatience over KAIST.
Koreans are also impatient over the Dokdo issue. It is obvious that the islets are Korean territory, but people here show a knee-jerk reaction whenever Tokyo claims sovereignty over Dokdo.
This strike-back response will not stop Japan from making its false claims.
Koreans also need to manage their level of impatience on the issue. They seldom think about how foreigners perceive it. About 80 percent of the world’s atlases reflect the Japanese view. Japan has outsmarted Korea at least in the propaganda war over the easternmost rocky outcroppings. Seoul’s diplomats and public information officers have not been proactive in letting the world know Korea’s position.
South Korean leaders also need patience in inter-Korean relations. Seoul’s policy toward Pyongyang has zigzagged ― the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations embraced the North, while the conservative Lee Myung-bak government distanced itself and pushed the relations back to the Cold War era again.
Both conservatives and liberals have long squabbled over how they should treat North Korea. They have so far failed to form a consensus on how to nudge the North into a mutually desirable path, probably toward a unified Korea.
It is naive to imagine a unified Korea under South Korea’s own terms or vice versa. Reunification will be possible only when the two Koreas agree and when neighboring countries, including the United States, China, Japan and Russia, are comfortable with the prospects for a unified Korea. Koreans also must manage their impatience over inter-Korean and reunification issues.
The government is also impatient over results in promoting the national image. Korea’s image has been slowly moving in the right direction because it is doing the right things. However, in a desperate attempt to make Korea look better, the Presidential Council for Nation Branding teamed up with Samsung Economic Research Institute to produce branding indexes. Many Western observers see the South Korean index as a tool to rig measurements, designed purely to make Korea look as if it is more famous or more admired than it is. The council copied the Nation Brands Index, which Simon Anholt, a respected British policy advisor has pioneered.
The Korean index is specifically designed to show that Korea has a better image than Anholt’s survey shows. In other words, the index is to produce data which is more flattering to the Korean government.
It achieves this by mixing in data about Korean exports, productivity and other factors, consequently showing the image which the government believes that Korea should have.
This is simply self-delusion. The reality is that most people outside Korea's immediate neighborhood know little about the country. What they do know is inaccurate, distorted and out of date, according to Anholt. The fact that South Korea has shown considerable growth and progress during recent decades is itself no guarantee of an international profile and admiration. Being a successful country is not the same thing as being an admired country.
Devising its own Brand Index illustrates the impatience of the government here for making Korea look better. Seoul’s brand managers should also check their degree of impatience.
Another example is that President Lee dismissed almost everything his predecessor has done and directed the budget to his own pet projects, with the goal of fulfilling the Four-River Restoration plan before he leaves office. President Lee knows that his successor may spoil the project unless he completes it during his tenure.
The impatient mentality is one of the key intangibles behind the Korean economic miracle. As the nation moves away from a metal-bashing economy toward a brain-based one, Koreans must ask whether their impatient way of thinking is either an asset or a liability.
Koreans have maximized the positive aspects of impatience. Now they need to seek ways of minimizing its negative aspects. They badly need a patience index to monitor and manage their level of impatience. Psychologists, professors, and researchers can establish the index although establishing its criteria may be tricky. On a scale of zero to 10, the index for Japanese may be zero, while that for Koreans may be 10. If Koreans can lower the index below 5, they will become happier and more prosperous than now.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. He can be reached at email@example.com