Sunday, July 29, 2018

Strong Enough to Show Weakness

It takes a special strength to show weakness.

It’s a skill I don’t have much of. I often wonder if I’m truly as weak as I think I am, or if I’m just making excuses and hiding. I was reminded of the power of others’ perceptions in battling this fear while watching a TV show recently. Once again, a teacher demonstrates the power in pushing onward. Once again, I see how another’s lifting can give you the strength to both try more and reveal more.

South Koreans are brilliant in the art of television variety shows. Among the current gems is Master in the House. This show offers a look inside South Korean culture with a cast of four talented young men, actor Lee Sang Yoon, 36, comedian Yang Se Hyung, 32, singer/actor/entertainer Lee Seung Gi, 31, and singer/dancer/actor Yook Sungjae, 23, who seek wisdom from an different experienced “elder” every week by following them for two days and one night. Each show has a unique setting and is loaded with goofy stunts and banter between the castmates. Each master brings a completely different style and life message for the men to reflect upon.

In episodes 27 and 28, they meet Seol Min Seok, a 47 year old teacher of Korean history. Seol Min Seok majored in theater and film. For 23 years, he has used that background to teach in ways that take people into important moments of Korean history. He brings the past’s people and moments alive, and in so doing, has developed a huge following within South Korea, including a YouTube channel with over 270,000 subscribers and over 55 million views.

In viewing him on this show and on some YouTube videos from another variety show, I was struck by his blending of old-school and modern teaching techniques. He stands before traditional rows of tables and chairs filled with his students. There’s a whiteboard or chalkboard as his backdrop, which he expertly uses. It’s his animation and style that pull the students in, demanding their active participation. His delivery is magical. This is “lecture” at its finest and most effective.

In Episode 27, Seol Min Seok takes the cast to the border between North and South Korea. He tells them that during the 70 years the countries have existed separately, the people within the countries have begun using their shared language differently. There will be a need, if the two countries hope to come together, to work on understanding one another. 

“If people can’t communicate with each other, we can’t do anything.”

He gives the hosts a pop quiz of examples. It turns out, in the two Koreas, Korean terms for “squid” and “octopus” are reversed today. So when a South Korean says squid, a North Korean pictures an octopus. In South Korea, there are many loanwords from English that have been incorporated into the Korean language, Hangul. For instance, the term 아이스크림 is used today. It’s the phonetic translation of the English words “ice cream”. In North Korea, they apply the same technique, but have picked another word: 에스키모, or eskimo. What some ice cream in North Korea? Ask for an eskimo. All world languages evolve and these were fascinating examples to me.

My absolute favorite part of this time with Seol Min Seok came at the end of Episode 28. He took the hosts to Dankook University with the intention of having them give spontaneous lectures about themselves (My History) to a random gathering of students. Think “busking” but with lecture instead of music. They were to use the lecturing and storytelling techniques he’d taught them to talk about themselves and engage the audience.

The hosts were terrified. Reading a script is one thing. Talking about oneself is something completely different. Seol Min Seok let them feel their nervousness, but he never abandoned them to it. He orchestrated their anxiety by suggestions that emphasized their strengths both individually and as a group. True expert educator mode.

I won’t give all the details of what happened. It’s really worth a watch to see people who make a living being in front of cameras dealing with genuine feelings of embarrassment and fright. Yang Se Hyung, the comedian, is especially sweet as he talks to himself, saying, “Time passes. This will pass.”. Why is he so concerned? In an academic setting where only the smartest of the smart are granted entrance, he scored extremely low on the test needed to attend such a school. He felt like he shouldn’t be there.

Showing weakness is painful. And yet, no one is perfect. How do we keep moving forward? How do we resist hiding in fear?

These are vital questions to consider and answer in the time we have. As I was reminded in Master in the House, it takes not only what we have inside, but who we have outside, supporting our efforts and views.