Dear Kim Jong-un,
You don't know me, however, this open letter is meant to assist you in your transitioning from heir-apparent to leader of North Korea. I teach at a university in the US. The courses are in the humanities: history, philosophy, art history, and a long list of other liberal arts classes. I also have traveled the world, studied overseas, lead tours to other countries, and taught a class in China. I have been to most of the Asian nations and love their culture, history, and people. One of the things that I have learned about the Asian Weltanschauung (that is a German word meaning world view) is their great respect for the older generation. They consider them wise...very wise. They revere the elderly.
I am 70-years old and was born during WWII. At the time of my birth, my father was in the South Pacific. If I had been born in Asia to Asian parents, my age would give me a great deal of respect. From their Weltanschauung, I have seen a great deal of life and therefore have a deeper understanding than others like you who are much younger than I.
This open letter is my unsolicited advice to you based upon my education and respect for the Asian culture and people. I have spent years addressing many of the thoughts of Kong Fuzi or K'ung Fu-tzu. We in the West know him as Confucius. He lived between 551-479 BCE. As you probably know, he spent much of his life teaching. Therefore, he and I have teaching in common. I'd like to remind you of some of his advice to those who were wise enough to read his Analects and his other writings.
Analects of Confucius
Here is a list of 12-Golden Rules of Confucius that I found in my reading of the Analects, which all of us ought to consider and then apply to our lives.
- Think before you jump. As with all in the educational field, we attempt to caution our students to think and often rethink before taking actions. Confucius said, "By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." Being twice your age, I want to assure you that much is personally lost, to say nothing about the larger community, when we don't pause to think before we act.
- Get into equalitarianism. One of the courses that I love to teach is art history. I have an artistic sense of proportion, and it doesn't look good to the world beyond North Korea when you deal with eating at two unequal levels. It raises questions when you should be dealing with your own weight issues by watching what you eat while your people have problems with finding enough food to eat. It doesn't convey a good image of what is your agenda as a leader. The affluent and their indifference to the poor causes outsiders to write off the rich. I can't imagine what your people really think when they compare your lifestyle and theirs. During our last election for president in 2012, we had the same problem with Romney and his oblivion to the needs of the poor...and he lost an election due in part to that mistake. He was too rich to see poverty. Confucius said, "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." It seems to me that both the people and their leader need nourishment - rice in one case and learning in the other. Both your people and you lack a lot.
Nate Beeler's perception
- Continue your education. Education isn't just going to school and repeating what is said. Education means to travel and see the world...the world of differences and alternative ideas. I am in Scotland now. Ironically, the Scots are exploring the issue of devolution (independence) from the UK. In six months, I will be in Burma to see that country and to understand it better. Hopefully, I will be able to interview Aung San Suu Kyi as she is attempting to help Burma to evolve into a country where freedoms abound. Confucius said, "If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people." Confucius asks each of us to continue our education so that we can think and carry on. In addition, he said, "Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star." Then he added, "The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat." Think about that when you aren't preoccupied with talking.
- Begin to love. Confucius wasn't into saber or nuke rattling to get people to smell the roses. He suggested that we all should love and avoid hate. Confucius wasn't concerned about looking good to the Chinese military or to the Chinese people by puffing himself up. He said, "It is easy to hate, and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get." We all need to read, understand, accept, and follow these ideas of Confucius.
- Dig two graves. Confucius was concerned about a life lead by the drive for revenge. He said, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." This is not so subtle of a warning. Nevertheless, it is critical for all of us to follow. If we don't, his admonition about digging two graves will be necessary. Neither Confucius nor anyone else can stop our witch-hunts designed to get even with someone else. Nonetheless, he assures us that we have embarked on a quest to kill the other and as a result kill ourselves. To punctuate his point, he also said, "When anger rises, think of the consequences."
- Live rightly. Confucius also said, "The faults of a superior person are like the sun and moon. They have their faults, and everyone sees them; they change and everyone looks up to them." I don't know about how much time you spend on the Internet, but go to YouTube. Type in the name of any relatively famous person, and you will find loads of video clips of that person, what they said, and how they acted. Better yet, type in your name; I did. I found 42,300,000 clips. The good, the bad, and the ugly is all out there in cyberspace. Be careful about what you say and how you act. Censoring 42-million video clips will be a Herculean task and extremely difficult. Don't forget what Confucius said about our behavior, "He who sling mud, lose ground."
- Watch your habits. Habits have a strange way of repeating themselves over and over again once we start them...hence the term, habit. Confucius gave the world this warning. "Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart." When we routinize our bad habits, we will repeat our mistakes.
- Learn from the North Star. Confucius wants you and all of us to see something that is obvious but all too often not seen by us. Confucius said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it." What your people and the world sees at night isn't much coming from North Korea.
The lights are out over North Korea
- Do unto others. Confucius wants you and the rest of us not to be so concerned about ourselves that we forget the rest of those in the world. He said, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." If you really want happiness, first give happiness to others...perhaps starting with food and freedom. That is just my interpretation of Confucius.
- Study history. Confucius said, "Study the past if you would define the future." We are as a human family moving away from dictatorships, oppression, and state brutality. Look at the transformation of nations in the past 100-years. All countries have moved toward greatly freedom and equality. Even Burma (you know it as Myanmar) is moving in that direction...slowly. Steve Biko, a great leader of South African independence, said in a very Confucian manner: "It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die." When people get to that understanding, the oppressive state does not have long to live.
- Look inward. Confucius said, "When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves." When you turn in at night, do you slept well?
- Start to know that you don't know it all. Confucius said something that seems at first glance to be counterintuitive but none the less true. We all need to listen to him, "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."
In addition to the 12-Golden Rules of Confucius, I'd suggest that you go to my website: Wolverton-Mountain at least weekly to start getting an education. All my other students, many of whom are as young as you, take advantage of this suggestion. The truly wise read it all the time.
Burmese independence flag
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Confucius Said page to read more about this topic.