Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Children must say 'no' to adult strangers

By Yoon Sung-min

Recently, I happened to watch a television program which aired on a major broadcasting company in the United States.

This program showed a series of experiments to see whether latchkey kids would open the door to their home when a stranger rings the bell. The children’s parents were watching on a hidden camera sitting in a car with television reporters and a child safety expert. An adult male stranger was trying to make the children open a door using alluding tactics such as disguising himself as an electrician or pretending to be an older neighbor whose wife is sick and is in desperate need of help.

Surprisingly, many children did open the door and allowed a stranger to come inside. This frustrated the children’s parents who were watching anxiously in a remote vehicle. One child did not open up and adamantly said no to a stranger who seemed to be a nice neighbor. His mother told the television crews that she had educated and trained her children not to open the door to anybody regardless of authority, age and type of emergency.

Generally, children show a tendency towards obedience to adult authorities. While some types of oppositional and defiant behaviors are discouraged, children are told to respect and follow rules and orders from adults. In Korean culture, this has been regarded as one of the virtues in which parents should teach children.

I, however, argue that this statement is not always true: Children should respect all adult authorities whatsoever. Children today are not living in a communal society where they know all their neighbors. They are now living with strangers who may have disgusting intentions. This somewhat saddens me to admit that we live in an untrustworthy and unsafe society. But this is the reality.

Quite a number of cases sexual in nature have occurred against minors in Korea. Many of them were committed by neighborhood strangers who threatened or coerced child victims exerting adult authority. Innocent children might follow them since the potential perpetrators were adults, and they had learned to be obedient.

There is no dispute that safety education for children is foremost important to prevent them from being victims of sexual crimes and other abuse. However, this is not enough. What if children cannot resist being coaxed by adults because cultural values do not allow them to do so? What if children are unable to say no against orders of potential perpetrators due to their imprinted propensity of obedience to adults? They might fall into the trap of being taken away and victimized sexually.

This urges us to teach our children to challenge authorities in case they are faced with strange or unjustifiable demands and situations. Children should know that it is okay to say no to adults discretionally and should not tolerate abuse or exploitation by their elders. I urge primary responsibility for parents, especially those who work long hours and are not home to supervise their children and instruct them to say no to strangers.

09-30-2010 17:28 TheKoreaTimes

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Education Starts in Family

Education Starts in Family

By Sung Min Yoon

Recently, President Obama presents his ambitious rescue plan to recover from the crippling economy. In the address to the congress and the American people, he promises to focus on three prime tasks; energy, health care, and education. My eyes were caught on education, since I have a child who, as Obama puts it, one of American’s future leaders.

In order to rescue America and to promise continuous leadership in the world, he stresses that we have to make efforts to raise great leaders who can compete with talented people from all around the world. He promises that he will innovate and invest educational systems and resources, from kindergarten to college.

He also pointed out that education starts in family, stating “All the policies and programs would serve as the doors to opportunities to children, but parents could have them get to the doors”.

South Korean parents have the reputation for having over-solicitous passions in their children’s education, which may be considered as top among other ethnic parents. They may spend huge amounts of money out of their pockets. They are willing to sacrifice for their children to succeed no matter what tolls it requires.

It is also the same case for Korean-American parents who raise their children in the United States. If asked to pick two items that they are hardly able to change, they would not hesitate to name ‘Kimchi’ and ‘passion for their children’s education’. This leads Korean American students to be placed on top of academic performances. This trend was featured on education sections of major American newspapers, including The New York Times.

However, it is ironical to note that Korean parents may be lax of their children’s education. Since working all day long, parents rely on public schools, private institutions and tutors for their children. During the weekday, Korean children jump from school to afterschool. Their minds become filled with English vocabularies and mathematic principles. It is pretty easy for them to play several musical instruments, like piano and violin. On the weekend, Korean parents spend half day either at a church or at a temple. After religious services and activities, they end up having lunch or dinner at a Korean restaurant in the community. This is a typical life of Korean parents and their children.

It seems to be a very busy life, but something is missing. Although Korean parents do their best for their children, I feel the lack in quality relationships. I argue several reasons for this psychological reaction. First, the roles of parents are not present in the lives of children. Although they work hard for their children, there is a disconnection in providing this significant role.

In his congressional address last Tuesday, President Obama defines the roles of parents as “attending parent-teacher conference, turning off TV and video games, and reading a book to their children.” He tells us that we should spend time with our children. Simply put, it is very important for parents to be with them.

This reminds me of many Korean parents who are in my therapy sessions. Although all of them have passions, they seemed to be distant from their children’s lives. They might not know what they have to do for children or perhaps what their children want. They may also be confused with the notion of success of their children.

It is in my best interest that Korean parents should turn to the core principles for children’s education. I hope they can simply be with their children when they need them. Ultimately, I hope they gain a sense of commitment to change.

Koreatimes Educational Column

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nuts and bolts for child protection

By Yoon Sung-min

Again, female minors have been sexually assaulted or abused.

I am heartbreakingly saddened by the fact that these children have been victimized not only by heinous sexual predators but also by ordinary people such as older children, adolescents, and/or adult neighbors.

A child was abducted and raped by a sex offender in a school. Another minor was coerced and sexually attacked inside her home. A group of elementary school students sexually molested a younger disabled child at their school.

Seemingly gentle neighbors sexually harassed one female child in their neighborhood. These ongoing stories are reported in the newspapers almost daily.

Obviously, these victims share common characteristics. They were weak, young and female. They were victimized in their own neighborhoods or schools.

Furthermore, it is regrettable that these incidents could have been prevented. In fact, child sexual abuse is not new to us. Many children have been sexual abused, attacked, harassed and/or molested. Most cases are unknown or go unreported.

Over the past several years the rate of sexual abuse toward minors has doubled. As we already know, a series of horrible sexual offenses have alarmed us and instigated the need for sound protective systems.

On a disappointing note, only mere fragmented measures thus far have been suggested to prevent these heinous acts toward young children. I argue that now is the critical time to revamp child protection laws and regulations as well as remedying child welfare systems to protect our innocent children.

It is imperative to note that other countries with more advanced child protective systems were once experiencing the same challenges as we face now. The bottom line is to learn from these failures in the past and not to make the same mistakes again in the future.

The basis of protection should be harsh punishment and protective systems. These are increasing jail terms, implementing mandatory tracking devices and operating sex offender registry databases.

For effective child protective measures, a centralized child protection agency must be established. This body would not only investigate and prosecute child abusers, but also provide preventive services and programs.

As another effective measure, parents, custodians, legal guardians and/or other responsible adults must accompany all young children, especially those under 12 years old. This could prevent many child sexual offenses in South Korea.

Along with punishments and the protective system, we need to improve our social imparity and social injustices which are causing a critical dismantling of social integration, thereby causing more crime and harming innocent victims.

Child welfare system should provide more public nursery and after-school programs so that children are cared for and protected while their parents work. The above suggested ``minor child accompaniment rule" will become nonsense if both parents are forced to work to make ends meet while children are left alone at home and/or on the street.

Last but not least, we have to rekindle our responsibility for raising not only our own children but also other children in our neighborhood. No efforts will be successful without the supports and efforts from every ordinary citizen.

I was shocked to hear that nobody reported the frightened child, who was being abducted by a sexual predator, even though he appeared reasonably suspicious.

If we ignore and neglect our children, child sex offenses will not be prevented. I hope we all join in to this responsibility.

The Korea Times:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How To Make Our Children Substance Abuse Free

By Sung Min Yoon

In recent years, substance abuse problems have not been regarded as serious social issues in the Korean American community. Korean American parents are not inclined to pay attention to risks of their children’s potential substance abuse problems. In my clinical experiences, however, I have observed that substance abuse rates among Korean American adolescents have been steadily on the rise. It is not a new trend that Korean adolescents abuse prescriptions, alcohol, tobacco as well as other illicit drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy.

One reason for not being sensitive with substance abuse problems is that Asian Americans have been viewed as having lower substance abuse rate compared to other counterparts in total substance abuse statistics. Asian Americans are also widely perceived as model minorities in the United States. In fact, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse(2001), the percentages of Asian/Pacific Islanders aged 12 and older who used cigarettes, alcohol, and any illicit drug in the past year equal approximately: 22%, 53%, and 6.5%, respectively as compared with about 31%, 66%, and 12% in the total U.S. population aged 12 and older. Rates of current illicit drug use among the major racial/ethnic groups in 2001 were 7.2% for whites, 6.4% for Hispanics, 7.4% for blacks, and 2.8% for Asians.

Although Asians as a group had the lowest rate of current illicit drug use, there exists variations among the Asian subgroups. For persons aged 12 or older, the rates of current illicit drug use were 1.3% for Chinese, 2.2% for Asian Indians or Filipinos, 3.0% for Vietnamese, 4.5% for Japanese, 5.0% for Koreans, and 5.1% for Pacific Islanders. The rate of Koreans was the second highest only superseded by Pacific Islanders. Furthermore, Koreans’ smoking rate was found as the highest among all Asian subgroups, as was the second highest subgroup superseded only by American Indians. The rate of Koreans who used Marijuana in the past year was 9.2%. This percentage is higher even than Whites(8.9%) and was the highest among all Asian subgroups.

When reviewing the illicit drug use rates of adolescents, alarmingly, Asian-Americans cannot be placed at lowest risk group. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the prevalence of illicit drug use among Asian-American adolescents aged 12 to 17 was 8.4% which was close to 10.9% for Whites and 10.7% for Blacks. These rates among Asian adolescents are much higher than the usage rates of Asian adults which were 2.4%. Therefore, we can conclude that Asian-American adolescents are exposed to the risks of illicit drug use than Asian American adults. The rates of illicit drug use among Asian-American adolescents are almost equal to the other ethnic counterparts. These Asian-American adolescents, who immigrated in early age or those born in the United States are much likely to be assimilated to American culture and are influenced by peer norms. It is possible for them to be more frequently exposed to the risks of drug use than Asian-American adults.

Substances abused by Korean American adolescents are: cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, inhalers and hallucinogens. In the United States, 3 out of 10 adolescents aged 12 to 20 reported that they consumed alcohol at least once in the past month. Alcohol is the substance most commonly abused by adolescents. Underage drinking causes many risks such as brain damage, memory loss, learning difficulties, misdemeanors and crimes. Furthermore, when adolescents start to drink at an early age, they would be more likely to be alcoholics in their adult years. Smoking is also one of the most highly abused substances by adolescents. According to a report, smoking rates among adolescents aged 12 to 17 were 13%. The 80 percents of adult smokers reported that they started to smoke before turning 18. Therefore, smoking at an early age can definitely be lead to smoking in adult years. Marijuana is widely used among adolescents as well. In the United States, approximately 20% of 8th graders reported to smoke marijuana at least once. In recent, medical marijuana use has been legalized in 14 states including New Jersey. However, this is strictly limited to chronically ill patients with prescriptions only from doctors. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and can cause serious side effects as an illicit substance. We should also be aware of abuse of Ritalin(ADHD mediation), pain killers, cold medicines, bonds and spray paints among adolescents.

Substance abuse among adolescents directly impact side-effects of addictive behaviors and withdrawal symptoms. The indirect symptoms include (but not limited to:) depression, anxiety, suicide, accidents, misdemeanor, and learning difficulties. Therefore, we should help our children to steer clear from substance use.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Too many suicides

By Yoon Sung-min

Over the past few years in Korea, we have seen an increasing number of suicides among celebrities. Among such recent cases, we were saddened to hear that actor Choi Jin-young ended his short life with heartbreaking tragedy. He followed the same fate that his beloved sister, Choi Jin-sil went on to do. In recent years, we have been shocked by countless suicides by actors, actresses and singers, as well as ordinary well-do-to citizens. Indeed, these cases are warning us about the ever increasing suicide pandemic in the country.

Korea's suicide rate is ranked the highest among OECD countries. A Ministry of Health and Welfare report released in 2008 showed that there were 12,858 suicides. This entails that an average of 35 individuals took their lives daily. This far outnumbers that of other advanced countries.

What is responsible for this pandemic? Throughout history, Koreans have shown a great deal of resiliency over wars, poverty, natural disasters and other life challenges. Ironically, Koreans are now living in an unhappy state in one of the most affluent and safest times in its entire 5,000-year history.

I argue that Koreans are not taking care of their emotional well-being. In this fiercely competitive society, we strive for success in education, employment and financial stability. While materialism is solely worshipped and pursued, non-materialistic values are easily neglected and ignored. From the early years of our lives, we are driven to success while not defining the real meaning of success. In the meantime, our mental health deteriorates.

We know that more Koreans take their physical health very seriously since this is widely believed to be a core element of happiness and success. Parks and sports facilities are packed with healthy and/or already attractive body-obsessed exercisers. Despite this, mental health is not taken seriously. This neglect could harm not only one's emotional health but also their physical health since these two are interconnected.

When it comes to the major cause of suicide, depression is one of the culprits. As mentioned in the series of suicides among celebrities, mental health issues are mainly responsible. Koreans barely seek mental health treatment such as psychotherapy and medication. Although many mental health problems are preventable and curable, only a few affected find the courage to go and see a psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professionals. This conscious or unconscious resistance is triggered by the stigma attached to mental health issues as well as by the presence of discrimination. This is an obstacle to those who are mentally ill in our society.

To make matters worse, there is constantly a great deal of gossip and rumors surrounding celebrities. So much so that they may be unable to reveal their mental health problems and seek professional help. They may resort to self medication, alcohol, drugs or other prescriptions that can put them at a higher risk of suicide.

It is interesting to note that Korean Americans living abroad are not free from suicide. A case in point: On December 31, 2009, suicide problems in the ethnic Korean community of the New York metropolitan area were reported in the New York Times. I was interviewed by the reporter writing that article. Living in the Unites States, I was curious to observe that Korean Americans have higher suicide rates than their other ethnic counterparts. This indicates that there is something more significant than a general description of suicide. There appears to be a core beliefs system embedded in most Korean's psychic schema.

To briefly describe these core beliefs, one must have an inflexible and dysfunctional set of dogmatic principles. One of these is that many Koreans feel trapped from success driven ideals, due to competitive and social norms. These are beliefs which suppress flexibility in the presence of failure. Even though there are many alternatives and options to respond to, it is not second nature to think about seeking help.

Is suicide preventable? Yes, as long as we become friendly toward failures and learn to step down, as well as move up the social ladder. It is also preventable by providing effective measures including awareness education, public campaigns, suicide hotlines and suicide prevention policies.

More importantly, my wish for Korea and Korean Americans is to strongly urge and consider our emotional well-being. The stigma toward mental health and services should be eliminated immediately. Physical health must be on par with emotional health. Now is the time to take these preventive measures towards foreseeable suicides.

The Koreatimes, 05-10-2010

Another Victim of Irresponsible Action

By Yoon Sung-min

Recently, a 13-year old girl, soon-to-be a middle school student was found dead in a water tank on top of a house in a neighborhood of Busan. While she was registered missing for about 10 days, we all hoped that nothing bad would happen to her, such as kidnapping, relentless rape and/or death. These thoughts came in vain. Yes, this is another case that a child is abducted and found dead after being raped by a sexual perpetrator.

In my previous article in The Korea Times, I pointed out that child abuse and neglect is one of the most problematic social issues in South Korea. Children are not properly protected due to lack of adequate laws and services. Since the last heinous rape incident, which an 8-year-old girl was relentlessly raped in a restroom, South Korea drastically appeared poised toward symbolic actions to revamp laws and regulations to protect children from such crime and abuse. However, I have constantly worried that this is not persisting and not enough.

In fact, this girl's life could have been saved if responsible parties had taken appropriate and sufficient measures to secure our children from the hands of sexual transgressors. The suspect, Kim Kil-tae, over the past years was arrested and jailed many times for sexual crimes. He was released from prison in 2008. Each time his actions became worse and crueler, his sentences were lowered for some reason. (Surprisingly, we don't know why. I feel his prison sentences should have been elevated.) A newly enacted law in 2008 requires sex offenders to wear electric tracking devices. This law was not applicable to the suspect of this case since his crimes were committed before the new law took effect. This law should have included his past felonies. Therefore, this is real nonsense.

Although sex offenders' identification and registry is accessible to the public and perpetrators are required to wear some type of tracking device, we would still be unable to prevent similar attacks on children committed by first time offenders. In order to protect our children effectively, South Korea needs to adopt comprehensive child protection laws and regulations, as well as preventive services and programs.

In the United States, like anywhere else, children are not totally free from such sexual and homicidal crimes. However, the Busan girl's case could have been prevented here for the following reasons.

First, the suspect would still be serving his prison term. In the United States, crimes against children, especially sexual acts and/or violence, most likely carry a maximum federal sentence depending on the jurisdiction. There is no chance for these suspects to walk the streets looking for the next potential victims.

Secondly, if released, this suspect would have been registered, tracked and monitored by electronic tracking devices. The suspect would register his presence in the local community, and his residency would be restricted. In some states, he would be confined to a mental health institution after he completed his sentence. These measures would prevent him from committing any future crimes.

Lastly, this girl would not have been going out alone due to our strong child abuse and neglect laws. It is a crime for a parent or legal guardian to leave a child unsupervised, even for a short period of time. Although there is no legal age, any child 13 years of age or younger should be accompanied by a responsible adult. In South Korea, I was very surprised to see that children even as young as 6 go unaccompanied to a store or beauty salon in an apartment complex.

Once again, we watch and see a mother weep for her daughter while others look with pity and sorrow. Given our strong stance on child abuse, neglect and sexual crimes, these measures should be considered the very minimum so that we can protect our children properly. This isn't the time to cry and regret ― rather a time to reflect and take swift actions on policy and legislations.

The Koreatimes, 03-14-2010

Helping Kids Cope With Crisis

By Yoon Sung-min

The ongoing global economic crisis can be stressful and fearful for children. The sullen moods of economic depression experienced by adults can be easily transmitted to our children, who are much more vulnerable toward emotional stress and fear than grown-ups. Adults are inclined not to reveal bad news to their children out of an assumption that it is better for them not to be exposed to bad things.

However, this is not realistic. By sidetracking, children can get to know what is currently happening through the media, by hearing from their peers in a classroom setting, or a playground. Therefore, parents and teachers need to help children understand what is actually happening and cope with their emotional reactions to prevent a further dysfunctional impact on their lives.

For the last two weeks, my clinic has shown an alarming number of children who have presented fear- and anxiety-related symptoms to this economic crisis faced by their families. These children are unable to fully verbalize what they feel and think due to the fact that their expressive language development is not yet complete.

Instead, their feelings and thought are expressed in the form of various psychological and somatic symptoms. Children in crisis may show agitation, social withdrawal, a clinging to adults, sleeping difficulties and have nightmares. They may also feel low self-esteem, confusion, helplessness, anger and suicidal ideation.

In order to help children cope in this economic crisis, it is more desirable for adults to be sincere and honest because most fears and anxieties are triggered by misconception and misinterpretation in cognitive processing. The confusion and uncertainty could lead to cognitive mal-adaptation, which results in fear and anxiety with subsequent physical and behavioral symptoms. Therefore, we need to help children understand what is exactly happening and what they should expect from the economic crisis. To do so, we need to learn some helping strategies.

The U.S. National Association of School Psychologists recently published tips for parents and teachers who need to help children cope during an economic crisis.

First, be assuring. Adults need to acknowledge that economic challenges are unnerving. The likelihood is that you and your children will be resilient. Second, acknowledge and normalize their feelings. It is important for children to understand that negative feelings are normal and expected. This allows them to express themselves safely. Third, maintain a normal routine. Although faced with crisis, sticking to a regular schedule can be reassuring and help promote both physical and psychological health. Fourth, spend time as a family. Sharing enjoyable activities with parents will benefit children in reinforcing their sense of stability and normalcy. Fifth, be optimistic. Even if the economic situations worsen, most people will be fine and resilient. It is important for adults to make children learn not to give up and stand for hope. Last but not least, discuss the economic crisis and prepare resolutions. Children can then use it as a learning opportunity in their future.

In sum, children are much more vulnerable to crisis. Therefore, preparation and preventive efforts are needed to protect them from anxiety and fear triggered by the uncertainty of such an event. We should not just resort to hiding the truth in the closet.

To the contrary, it's better to be open with them. This way, it will help children understand the difficulties and help them feel safe and confident. By doing so, children will learn to handle obstacles in the future. A crisis can turn out to be a valuable learning opportunity for them.

The Koreatimes, 5/4/2009

Crying Out for Protection of Children

By Yoon Sung-min

For several days, I have been infuriated and troubled by the crime committed by Cho Doo-soon, which shocked all Koreans, whether living in South Korea or not.

As a clinician treating child victims and a father of a daughter, I was speechless and shocked to hear this news from Korean Internet sites. What made me speechless was that an eight-year-old girl was relentlessly raped by a worthless pedophile who was not regretful at all.

What is even more heartbreaking is that the young innocent girl will be afflicted with permanent disability as well as tremendous emotional trauma. Incredibly, he was sentenced to only 12 years in jail for his heinous act. This has invoked extreme rage and frustration among ordinary Korean citizens.

Whenever similar crimes happened in the past, we were given a lot of suggestions to protect our children from being victimized by various crimes. At this point in time, we did not believe that our children's lives were much safer than before. This is mainly due to the fact that the suggestions disappeared within several months while tangible changes were not made quickly enough to punish sex offenders of children and to help our children live safely. Most of the blame goes to policy makers and the meager child protection laws and regulations.

Not long ago, when two girls were raped and killed by a psychopathic rapist in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, I wrote a column titled ``What if They Lived in the United States," which ran in a Korean newspaper. In it, I suggested several changes for the child protection system.

Although the article and suggestions were posted on the government Web site Shinmoongo, I have not heard from any responsible parties regarding the status of my suggestion. All I received was a simple e-mail, confirming that my case was submitted.

None of my suggestions have been implemented and our children are still in danger. Since pedophiles are everywhere targeting young girls and boys, our children cannot be safe from rape crimes unless proper prevention and protection systems are established along with harsh punishments for those crimes.

The other day, I was invited to a small party thrown by a friend who is an attorney. In the middle of our conversation, he explained that the value of his house is much lower than the ones in surrounding communities. His gorgeous $740,000 house could be valued between $800,000 and $900,000 in adjacent neighborhoods. The reason for this discrepancy is that a sex perpetrator resides at a house several blocks away from my friend's house. In the United States, we can check a sex offender registry database that provides information to residents about sex offenders who live or work in our neighborhoods.

This law, known as Megan's Law, which was passed in 1996, is designed to protect children from being a victim of a sexual offense. A convicted sex offender must register as such upon release from incarceration and continue to do so during the rest of his life.

On such Internet registries, we can find sex offenders by last name, street, city, zip code, and state with just a few clicks of the mouse. Electric GPS devices are also required for some sex offenders. Any sexual acts against minor children are strictly prohibited and punishable with long jail sentences. The 12-year sentence for Cho would be considered nonsense in the United States.

The child welfare system is well established in the United States. A case in point: In New York State, Child Protective Services prevent all minor children from being alone without parental supervision. Parents, custodians, legal guardians and/or other responsible adults must accompany all young children, especially those under 12 years old. A violation of this can lead to an immediate freeze of parental rights, foster care placement, mandatory parental counseling, or criminal charges. This helps minor children to be protected from potential risks from sex offenders or other crime perpetrators.

It is a real tragedy and shame to hear about another situation where a rapist such as Cho commits a crime in South Korea, which has been proudly regarded as one of the G20 countries. I argue that South Korea must protect minors in order to proclaim itself as an advanced country.

Nowhere in advanced countries are children so easily neglected or abused. None of the laws and regulations of such countries are filled with loopholes allowing sex offenders and crime perpetrators to get away from their responsibilities.

The Koreatimes, 10-12-2009

Recovering Value of Family

By Yoon Sung-min

In a Father's day speech at a church in Chicago's South Side, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about the value of family. He stated that ``of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important."

By introducing his personal experiences with his parents and his two daughters, he emphasized the roles of parents in shaping good lives for their children and allows us to recognize the strong value of family in our lives.

Throughout human history, no one can deny the fact that the concept of family has been a basic but important social system for all of humankind. We are provided with comfort and rest through family. Like a fortress, a family protects us from outside dangers. Family is not conditional or calculating.

This is a prominent difference between the system of family and the other systems. The principle of success does not work within the family, but rather outside. Whether we succeed or not, we are just accepted as children or parents. Although society rejects a failure, a wholesome family embraces him or her. This is what we call family.

Surprisingly, family can easily be a ground for hatred and/or dispute. It seems that both love and hatred stems from the same origin. Family members should accept and love each other. On the contrary, they can also hate or hurt each other. Lamentably, a family can ignore each other while giving up both love and hatred.

Generally speaking, the opposite word of love is not hatred but, rather, ignorance. On the hatred level, we still hold interests and expectations. However on being ignorant, no one hates or expects anything from each other. We just live our lives like strangers, while not being troubled with one another. This is far from conciliation and generosity. Ignorance may be a defense mechanism to protect the ego from anger and despair. Otherwise, the ego is unable to tolerate such pains and wounds.

Prevention is the best prescriptive measure to protect us from either hatred or ignorance. We should do something to save our family: endeavor and sacrifice. To attempt an endeavor, and make a sacrifice, communication is placed as a top priority. Communication has a similar function, just like blood is to our relationship.

As the body needs blood for maintaining life, relationships require communication. In any relationship, problematic communication results in its death. We misunderstand communication as giving orders or to command. This is not clear. Experts define communication as listening to others with nonjudgmental attitudes and genuine empathy.

On the other hand, in order to save our relationships, we should be equipped with concession and patience. Concession is the action of willingly conceding ourselves for other's benefits. Patience is to put up with others' faults. These two virtues are the best antidotes to prevent family from breeding hatred and ignorance. These are achievable with our efforts. Hatred comes from greed while ignorance stems from impatience.

A family's role serves as a testing ground for building good character. How we talk and behave within the family is presented to the outside world. Furthermore, we should embrace our family members who have gotten hurt and failed outside.

Family should adapt a so-called role of a ``field hospital" where there is a healing and comforting presence to other family members. If we are not cured properly or even wounded by the family, we are unable to work or fight in the real world.

I argue that we rekindle the values of family at this critical moment in time. We have the key to open the door either to heaven or to hell. The path of our family relies upon this determination. The choice is ours.

The Koreatimes, 07-24-2009