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.

Comments

  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.

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