A lesson from my old schoolmaster
Approximately half a century ago when I was a high school student, we used to have morning assembly before the main classes.
All the students got together in the playground and had a short ceremony, saluting the national flag and singing the national anthem, and our principal took the podium and delivered an instructive speech.
One morning in a speech longer than ever, he said that there are three types of person in the world.
One is that not wanted by society, a dispensable person. Another is one who makes no difference by his presence, either dispensable or indispensable. The third is the type who is indispensable to our society, a person without whom this society can't stand.
The principal concluded his speech by emphasizing rightly that we should do our best to become the third type, an indispensable person.
In retrospect, in my teens I showed promise and belonged to the third type. I was a role model to my peers. I was proud of it. Coming of age, being indulged in pleasantries and distractions in the course of youth, I lost track of my road to be taken and ended up as the second type. I was just an ordinary invisible being, just one of them on the street.
Going in to my 40s, trapped by the unidentified desire that held me in fetters, I pursued being an indispensable person haphazardly, as if stretching my arms for colored smoke in the air but always coming to naught. Nevertheless, it was still worthwhile for my 50s were to come.
Entering into my 50s, taken unawares by the shortness of time left and worse yet, taken with incurable disease, I realized that it was all a dream, happy to dream but unreachable.
Nearing the age of 60 at which to obey the will of God according to Confucius, for all the awakenings so far, to how far away I am diverted from what I intended at the beginning, and after all the efforts to retrieve the lost past, the new wonderland over the mirror is too brave new a world for me, for it is the smart age I can't catch up with.
Thinking over the scraps of time left, ten or at most 20 or so years, I still brace for the least remaining to make up for lost time. The sole purpose is to settle the account of my entire life as to be indispensable to both myself and others.
Now we are into an age in which a simple twiddling of a thumb moves mountains and change the drift of the world and mobs billions of people into the pursuit of an uncertified object. So risky or flimsy has the world become that good and the evil are determined not by our conscience but by just a whimsical twiddling of a thumb moved by momentary emotion.
Our inner voice has become so inaudible or trivial and so violent and impulsive that our wrath and passion has become just a bit of frustration that can break down the wall of self-discipline or patience.
Now is the time when we so much need a pure soul annealed through morals and ethics that we can discipline ourselves to develop a person who is indispensable to this world. For this purpose the issue of education should be brought to the attention of the world again and beyond it, religion.
In every walk of life, there should be a person whose presence is absolutely required in the field he or she is involved in. And I ask myself again, ``How have you lived and where are you now and what is the final transcript of your life?"
The principal's speech still rings home!
The writer is the principal of Polyglot Day School in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.