The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Grateful for everything, even in the pandemic

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : Dec. 23, 2020 - 05:30

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Christmas is just around the corner, but sadly, this year Santa Claus may not be able to come due to the pandemic. Still, however, we should be grateful for his lifetime of service to children, coming all the way from the North Pole every Christmas.

The Bible teaches us to be grateful, saying we should be “thankful in everything, in all circumstances,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Yet these days, so many of us are constantly grumpy and cranky, complaining instead of being thankful. In fact, there are many things, for which we should be thankful. For example, the people in South Korea should be grateful for not living in North Korea, which is only a few hundred miles away. If they lived in North Korea, their lives would be miserable in many respects. Instead of being thankful, however, many people in today’s South Korea seem to be hateful and vengeful, instigated by populist politicians who disseminate distorted notions of equality in wealth and class. Naturally, many Koreans are unhappy and discontent all the time

If we try to be thankful for what we have, however, we can be happy. Sometimes, even a disaster can turn into a blessing, but only if we try to find some positive aspects in it. Take COVID-19 for example. The global catastrophe has claimed so many people’s lives, devastated the world’s economies and paralyzed society. Therefore, there seems to be no positive aspect to it.

Nevertheless, some people must be thankful to the pandemic, such as Joe Biden’s supporters. Indeed, had it not been for COVID-19, President-elect Biden probably could not have won the election because the US economy had been so prosperous until the pandemic hit America in the election year. Furthermore, if he had not been infected by the coronavirus, President Trump could have come out with an “October surprise” that might have swept the votes.

The pandemic has other positive elements. For example, it has warned us that globalization, despite its merits, can make us vulnerable to a pandemic such as COVID-19. Moreover, the unprecedented pandemic has enabled us to realize that some countries, taking advantage of globalism, are brazenly trying to control and manipulate other countries by using their capital and investments. As a result, many countries are now taking precautions against the influx of foreign economic projects and the political leverage they bring. Without the pandemic, they might have lowered their guard and ended up being a country that looks like an Orwellian nightmare.

The pandemic has also taught us that there are hopelessly irresponsible, shameless countries on earth. It is a shame that no countries have ever assumed responsibility or apologized so far for the spread of the coronavirus that has claimed so many precious lives and ruined numerous people’s careers. The pandemic has made us realize the importance of decency and the integrity of democratic countries.

In addition, thanks to the global pandemic, we have come to realize the necessity of reshoring. Currently, when we go shopping, we find nearly all the merchandise in the market are products of a single country because of that country’s cheap labor costs. However, the pandemic has taught us that if we do not have factories supplying parts and merchandise in our country, or if we do not disperse our factories in diverse countries, we will be in big trouble in emergencies such as COVID-19.

The pandemic has also shown that our government could and would control our freedom and individuality under the pretext of an emergency. Had it not been for the coronavirus, we might not have perceived the potential danger of deteriorating democracy and infiltrating totalitarianism in our societies under the name of emergency measures.

Another important thing is that the spread of COVID-19 has prompted us to realize the problems of our health care systems, whether capitalist or socialist. Thanks to the coronavirus, we have witnessed the inherent problems of both American and European medical systems that proved to be unable to deal with the global pandemic effectively. The response to the pandemic will surely improve our health care systems drastically in the near future.

Amazon, too, must be grateful to the pandemic because it is making a fortune thanks to COVID-19. Indeed, so many people choose to shop at Amazon these days instead of going out shopping. At the same time, consumers, too, should be thankful to Amazon for its fast delivery; Amazon is operating a “next day delivery system” these days.

Furthermore, thanks to COVID-19, we have now realized the preciousness of warmth of human touch and friendly greetings, which we have lost lately. It has also made us appreciate the importance of not only social distancing but also social gatherings.

Due to the global pandemic, we are now living in turbulent times. Nevertheless, if we are thankful in everything, we can be happy even in the pandemic era. Then we “shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,” as W.B. Yeats writes in “The Lake of Innisfree.”

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.