Skip to main content

Koreans and School Shootings

I enjoy Jay Caspian Kang's writing at Grantland, a sports journalism website. But his recent NY Times article takes his craft to another level. Kang writes about the Oikos nursing school massacre in Oakland last April. He compares it with the Virginia Tech massacre five years earlier. Both involved Koreans. In an interview with Korean-American child psychiatrist, Winston Chung, Kang writes:

“In Korean culture,” Chung explained, “denial and avoidance are the status quo. Under all that suppression, emotional turmoil festers. When it’s not addressed, it can turn explosive. There’s this dark side that needs to be dealt with, but the Korean community as a whole will not acknowledge that               something is up. Nobody will say anything about anything. “I know this shooting had something to do with   han, with hwabyung, [two Korean terms meaning hopeless anger] Chung went on. “I feel almost guilty saying that, knowing how hurtful those words might be to other members of the Korean community. But all my training, everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve read and my own personal experiences all point to that. This guy was suffering from something that was very Korean.”

Two reactions:

1) Anger and passion go together: I went to a Korean church during my freshman year at Berkeley. I've never seen anything like the passion Korean Christians have. I saw it in this church - early morning prayer meetings, people shouting at God during singing, elaborate male bonding rituals, violent party games involving slapping, fervency in pretty much everything they did. Nothing I've experienced in other church cultures comes close. I saw it during the World Cup in Seoul when the entire stadium shook in unison. I see it whenever I travel abroad and meet Korean missionaries. The solidarity and intensity of Korean culture is unique throughout Asia. Unbridled anger and passion are two sides of the same coin. The passion I admire and want to emulate is, at another moment, the very same rage that I fear and detest. 

2) Every Asian culture stuffs negative emotions and events: We stuff. We don't talk about bad things. We don't want to face a tragic or sad event. We pretend like nothing happened. We hope by not talking about a shameful event it will go away. We fear heaping on further additional humiliation and shame. We hope that avoidance will dissipate the grace. Why disturb social harmony by revisiting an unpleasant situation? That's why we don't apologize. It brings up negative emotions. Why stir up something bad again? Shame kills. In every way.


  1. Yeah, so true, we stuff a lot of our experience. It blows up in these horrible ways like mass murder, suicide, domestic violence. And it also haunts us in sad, quiet ways like family secrets and unspoken sorrows.

    I was talking to a friend the other night about how bummed we are that we don't really know our parents because they'll never tell us everything. It's like we're being cheated out of our inheritance.

    And the sadder part is that I can see myself doing the same thing with my kids, instinctively not letting them in, or habitually modeling Asian stoicism. It's takes a conscious effort for me to set aside my embarrassment and be honest.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Dad's Review of Passport 2 Purity

[3,100 words, 11 minute read] The sex talk is one of the most dreaded conversations parents anticipate having with their children. To make things easier, an entire industry exists to help parents with sex education. Dozens of books have been written to help parents navigate this treacherous topic with their progeny. One of the best known among evangelicals is called the Passport 2 Purity Getaway package . It is produced by FamilyLife, a division of Cru (former Campus Crusade for Christ) and consists of a five lecture CD package including a journal and exercises designed as a weekend retreat for a pre-pubescent child and his/her parent(s). Passport 2 Purity was not my initiative. Our trip came about because Judy had heard from several home-schooling mom friends how they had taken their daughters on a road trip to go through the CDs. She even heard how a mom took a trip with husband and two sons to through the curriculum. So a couple months ago, Judy suggested we take our two older boy

Why Asians Run Slower

My brother got me David Epstein's book The Sports Gene . It is a fascinating quick read. If you're interested in sports and science, it will enthrall you.  I finished it in three days. Epstein's point is that far more of an athlete's performance is due to genetics than due to the so-called "10,000 hour" rule promulgated by books such as Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (both which are very good). The 10,000 hour rule states that any person can reach expert level of performance in a sport if they devote 10,000 hours of deliberate and intentional practice.  That's a lot of hours. Most people aren't capable of anywhere close. And that's precisely Epstein's point. Someone who devotes 10,000 hours of sport-specific practice is likely genetically gifted for the sport in extraordinary ways AND genetically gifted in their ability to persevere and benefit from practice. Therefore, a person who can pra

Short Buffed Asian Guys (SBAGs)

I've always wanted to be tall. That didn't work out so well and I've settled for getting bigger. So now I lift weights, a pastime that I've taken up in fits and starts over the years. I thought about drinking protein shakes to get huge. Judy said no. She said I don't want you to become one of those guys. The Short Buffed Asian Guy (SBAG). It seems I'm not the only one to consider this approach. Legions of SBAGs testify to this. And it seem like the shorter you are, the more muscular you have to be in order to compensate for one's lack of height. I don't know any tall buffed Asian guys (Jeremy Lin does not count - he clearly has a neck). So what's with this phenomenon? First, Asian men are on average shorter than American men. And in my book, anyone 5'8" or under is short (which includes me). There are all kinds of insecurities that go with being short, especially for men. You look up to people. You make less   money . You fee