Timeless classic or old junk, it's your call


We all grow old with the passage of time. No one can escape ageing or cheat death.

Recently, I watched several Hollywood movies that featured once-glorious but now aged actors who acted splendidly, as though they were still young: Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, among others.

Though they looked older, with wrinkles and frosty hair, and were in supporting roles instead of playing the virile young hero, all of them seemed to have aged gracefully.

As I grow older myself, I begin to ponder how I can age well. I have seen many greedy, dirty old men around me who were ruined by their indecent behaviour: taking bribes, cheating on their wives, sexually harassing women and whatnot.

The older you are, the more decency and integrity you need to display, otherwise you are likely to turn into a despicable greybeard. If a man loses respect, he might as well be dead.

Sometimes, an old man may suffer from delusions of grandeur about his physical charm, only to end up looking like a lecherous fool.

Alternatively, he may have a desperate wish to prove his manhood, have a last hurrah, if you will. He may deceive himself into believing that an ember still smoulders in the extinct crater of his once-passionate love. Or he may be momentarily under the illusion that he can rekindle an old flame.

Whatever it may be, he is likely to make a fatal mistake that will ruin his reputation, honour and integrity.

As you get older, you have two options: You can become either old junk or a timeless classic. An old computer can never become a classic: It simply becomes obsolete, a piece of malfunctioning junk doomed to be chucked away.

But old songs can turn into classics, and so can old works of literature. A bottle of vintage wine with enchanting flavour and taste is certainly a classic. Like music, literature and wine, we, too, can age well as we grow older.

Recently, TV news channels exposed rampant sexual harassment at colleges and secondary schools in South Korea. How teachers can sexually harass their students eludes me - such perverts should not be allowed to become educators in the first place.

How can those teachers edify their students when they themselves lack a sense of noblesse oblige, professionalism and responsibility? If you have power over junior faculty members or students, you should protect them, not exploit them by using your position.

If you want to win a woman's heart, you should use your personal charm, not your position and power. Using your status to seduce women is cowardly.

I was presented with the university's rules and regulations when I signed the faculty code of the University of California, Berkeley. One of them clearly stated that you could not have a relationship with undergraduate students under any circumstances.

As for graduate students, you could have a relationship - but only if she was not in one of your graduate seminars. Put differently, if a grade was at stake, you could not have a relationship with the student. This rule was obviously created to prevent people from using their positions when initiating relationships.

Not letting your girlfriend go when she wants to break up with you is cowardly too. Unfortunately, many Koreans do not take "No" for an answer.

We have quite a few instances of Korean men reacting badly after a break-up, setting fire to their girlfriend's house or even stabbing her and her family members.

As it has been so prevalent and even "fashionable" in our society lately, the Korean media has conjured up a term for the phenomena, "parting crimes".

While discussing the reason for this strange tendency of Korean men, a woman told me: "Perhaps Korean men are so proud of themselves that they cannot tolerate when their pride is hurt."

But she was wrong. It is not their pride, but their inferiority complex that triggers their fury. The psychology is: "How dare you ignore me and treat me like this!"

They are so selfish that they neither care about nor respect the other person's feelings and decisions. They are egotistical and inconsiderate. Indeed, a man with genuine pride, self-esteem and decency would say, "Fine! If that's what you want. Best of luck!" and let her go.

Another embarrassing Korean phenomenon is so-called "road rage". If another car gets in your way, you retaliate by chasing it or blocking lanes. If you do this, you will never be able to age graciously.

Our society urgently needs the qualities of decency, integrity and generosity. Older people should display noblesse oblige and professionalism, while youth should show civility and courtesy.

The choice is ours: Do we become a perennial classic or an old beaten-up piece of junk that will soon be disposed of?