Chungbuk National University students are future members of society. Students will inevitably go out into society and build a variety of important relationships. To be socially successful, the most important ability required is ‘Empathy’, ‘Why is ‘Empathy’ important and why should people practice it?’ This is an important question people need to seriously ponder. The question was posed to Lim Hong-jae, a former Korean diplomat, in a recent interview.
1. Please introduce yourself briefly.
Since I started my career as a diplomat in 1977, I have worked in New York, Thailand, Costa Rica, the UN mission, and the Oishidi mission. I have worked as a diplomat in Iraq, Iran, and Vietnam. Currently I am serving as a mentor for Mentoring, the social leader of the 2021 Korea Scholarship Foundation.
2. Today’s interview is based on your experience as a diplomat. What does ‘our life’ have in common with ‘diplomacy,’ and what lessons can people learn?
Diplomacy has many definitions, but it is usually an effort to ensure stable relations with other countries in order to prevent conflicts from occurring and to resolve them peacefully when they do arise. Even in personal relationships, I think it is great personal strength to be able to harmonize with each other and avoid conflict or to resolve them smoothly. In this regard, whether it is international diplomacy or personal life, maintaining a smooth relationship while harmonizing with each other seems to have something important in common. Both depend on the attitude to see and think from the other person’s point of view, that is, the ability to empathize.
3-1. In your book A Window of Empathy, The Arrows of Innovation, you said that knowing yourself and understanding others is the basis of empathy. I would appreciate it if you could tell Chungbuk National University students about the importance of empathy in relationships.
Empathy can be experienced by seeing issues from the other person’s point of view. In the case of a company, when it sees, produces, sells, and manages from the standpoint of stakeholders such as workers, consumers, investors, employees and environmental protection activists, the company will be accepted and flourish in society. In other words, empathy with stakeholders is not to simply agree or sympathize with the stakeholder’s arguments or positions, but to actually see issues from the stakeholder’s point of view. Companies must constantly innovate for survival and prosperity, and A Window of Empathy, Arrow of Innovation is a book aimed at successful innovation when promoting innovation with a sympathetic attitude, introducing various examples of business and diplomacy. In diplomacy, even if difficult conflicts arise, you can move the other person in the direction you want in order to find an ammicable solution. That is, as long as you can understand the other person’s situation and needs through empathy.
3-2. What are some practical ways for students to try to empathize?
Communication with the other person seems to be the most important aspect to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Communication begins with dialogue. To start a conversation, you first need to try to open the other person’s heart. It’s possible with a small effort. For example, if you always smile, greet people warmly, express your gratitude from time to time and praise frequently, you are bound to establish a good rapport. It really won’t cost you anything. It’s a small thing, but these habits play a powerful role like cutting-edge weapons. It’s okay to apply it generously. Next, ‘small talk,’ which include things like the weather, hobbies, sports, and food, is helpful in opening the other person’s heart. Politics, religion, salary, age, marriage and sexual orientation are not appropriate for small talk. Futhermore, you have to genuinely listen to the other person. Just by listening, the opponent will warm up to you. Perhaps that’s why former U.S. President Obama stressed that listening is much more productive than speaking.
4. In your book, you said that sometimes ‘ideology’ can be an obstacle to opening other people’s hearts. Discrimination and hatred have been occurring in society because of differences in ideology. Can’t ideology and empathy be complementary? Also, what are some ways to overcome ideological differences?
I will limit myself to domestic ideological confrontation. It seems natural to have different political ideologies such as progressives and conservatives. However, it should be clear that we should be wary of misunderstanding opponents because of ideology. Therefore, people regard their opponent as an object to break down or remove, but I think the object to be overcome or removed is the problem itself that caused the confrontation of ideology. If both parties focus on the problem to be solved, ideologically opposing opponents will become partners in problem-solving, and ideological confrontations can therefore work positively. Even if we are ideologically opposed, if people take an attitude of empathy, at least a common denominator can be formed and maintained. I think empathy can serve to bridge the ideological gap.
5. Externally, many students are currently interested in studying English. Among the lectures processed by the Korea Scholarship Foundation, you emphasized the importance of English and said the practice of studying English is what makes education complete. Is there a special way to practice?
I’d like to say that English is competitive in the global world. First of all, it is important to know the content of the subject students are trying to talk about. If they know the content well, English comes naturally. Furthermore, it is important to speak Korean well. When I was a university student, I couldn’t read many Korean books because of military service and preparation for social advancement. At that time, I studied English literature, but I didn’t have a chance to meet foreigners until 1979 when I participated in the Oxford University diplomatic process. When I was at Oxford University, I couldn’t understand lectures, so I used to record the lectures, and listen to them repeatedly. If there was a strange expression in the newspaper or on the street, I’d write it down, and memorize it. At the age of 31, I was assigned to the New York Consulate General and listened to English radio broadcasts on my way to work. I also listened to NBC and CNN broadcasts at home. At this time, encountering the New York Times was a turning point in my English study. Plus, I read best-selling books in the United States. That was when I started studying English properly. In fact, these things resulted in imitating native speakers to the best of my ability.
There may be many ways to study English these days, but I recommend first reading Korean newspapers and editorials in English and reading one editorial about 20 times. The cumulative effect of these efforts will speak for themselves. Then, I recommend listening to Arirang TV, CNN, and BBC. If people keep listening, they will get a better skill to understand English. Furthermore, what is essential in studying English is the courage to actually speak English. It really doesn’t matter how much grammar you know. If you lack the courage to speak, theoretical knowledge will be of no benefit. Napoleon also said that courage is more important than strategic genius on the battlefield.
6. Lastly, please say something to Chungbuk National University students.
First of all, I’d like to say that life is not a 100m sprint, but rather an ultra-marathon. It means to plan for the distant future rather than to focus on the immediate benefits as students usually do. Also, the general direction is more important than the velocity. Students have to get the first step right. There is a lot of truth in the expression, starting is half the battle, and if students get the first step right, they’ve already achieved half the goal. Furthermore, to run long-distance races, it is necessary to lay the foundation well in knowledge and physical strength. If the foundation is strong, it won’t shake in any crisis. Therefore, students need to be patient and make efforts to constantly challenge themselves. Tiger Woods, who won the PGA as many as 82 times, said he rushed back to the practice range immediately after the match and practiced again, regardless of whether he won or not. I want to tell students that, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Also, when dealing with people, always try to place yourself in their shoes, i.e. have empathy. If students learn to empathize, everything will come true as they wish. Finally, you should remember this: dream big, live big.