The very pedantic tone I have acquired over the years in my writing comes from my attempt at shameless self-promotion. It feels good to tell people that you feel smart, and to attract attention for that fact. In fact this entire country runs on that one ideal that a good and supreme education is the key to meritocratic success. I am not entirely sure as to what the macro-scale data suggests about that statement, some statistics show that after all, a college education is worth it - at least in terms of financing yourself through life.
I thought long and hard about the social ideals and perceptions that have been deeply implanted in me, and about the kind of people I respect. Do we respect rich, smart or altruistic people? Or best of all someone who satisfies all of those criteria? Our society deeply and truly respects those with a strong education, and mental acuity that is unparalleled.
And then I thought about the specific factors that have led me to respect smart and rich people. It’s definitely the media.
The media, especially traditional print media - all the news outlets we know by name - are bound to the great man bias. When we determine something to be newsworthy, it always comes down to that “worth” - is it special enough, is it great enough, is it surprising enough and the superlatives go on. And then it glorifies the prodigy, the academic, the CEO and the athlete. It gives people the false hope that with hard work, success could be found or made by anyone.
I don’t want to crush the dreams of others and mine as well. Instead, what I really want to say is that the way our media describes the world and the people who “succeed” in it is so narrowly defined. The current system is based on a probabilistically impossible game for everyone to be successful. Why? Because in a country of 50 million, if the “one and onlys” of each area of expertise are deemed successful, the rest are labelled “less successful” or had a shot at life but failed anyway. And that feeling of defeat and loss, the ensuing shame is crushing.
Thankfully, the amazing and sometimes scary but weird YouTube algorithm led me to an intriguing video that helped me think otherwise. According to Lee O-young, famed literary critic and Korean literature professor who was once a professor at our institution, everyone can succeed in their own way. Pause for a moment - does that sound cliché? Well it isn’t. The very terminologies we use in the Korean language, which are often related to a linear scale of achievement per time, can be captured mostly by the idea of “catching up” and “turning the tables around”, Who and what do we need to catch up on? Why turn the tables around?
Lee said instead, if you give life a little bit more directionality, and let people go each in their own direction (think of everyone starting at the circumference of a circle and then walking out into their respective directions) everyone can succeed.
That vein of thought has become too idealistic in a world where people are fighting for limited resources. Maybe after all the bulldozer crushing buildings analogy of harmful survival for the fittest is actually the best narrative of our society. But it is precisely in thinking so, in understanding where our perception has been shaped thus that we can make small changes. And that change, in accepting the diversity of the word “success,” and to give that empowerment to everyone who has the right to a successful shot at life, has to start with the media.