“Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.” – Eric Hoffer
Her nickname is Little Swallow in Chinese. It is a name that is very suitable for she is petite, fair-skinned and full of life. Aptly, the word “swallow” in a name is a symbolic of feminine beauty. I was struck by her sunny nature from the moment I met her. Of Korean and Chinese descent, Little Swallow was our local tour guide during our trip in December.
We had decided on go to Korea for our family vacation. Because we were intending to travel long distances and do not know how to speak the Korean language, we figured that we were better off joining a tour group. We do not usually join tour groups so the decision was pretty much an exception.
What were unexpected were lessons on self-love by Little Swallow. Over eight days, Little Swallow would stand up in front of the tour bus to introduce us Korean culture, history and interesting sightseeing spots in fluent Mandarin. However, she would weave her personal stories laced with life lessons and often in poetic Chinese idioms while conducting the tour.
Having published Self-Love Secrets just prior to my trip, my ears would pick up whenever she was sharing a lesson about loving and accepting the self. I was very interested to hear what she had to say. Little Swallow shared about her insights with handling relationships in a culture that has been standing on the cusp of modern and traditional values. She spoke brilliantly, touchingly and beautifully.
Little Swallow exude healthy self-love even whilst it was clear that she was also on the journey towards loving herself more deeply. She shone with inner confidence. However, she also shared about a time of feeling inadequate about herself and about keeping sane in a society that is prone to depression. Today’s article is what I have gleaned from my encounter with an inspiring person in Korea.
Self-Love in A Modern-Traditional Society
Some background information might help. Modern South Korea continues to be predominantly a male-centered society. Despite its vast growth, traditional ideas and values remain. Perhaps it is the need to strike a healthy balance between the old and new that contributes to the high stress levels of the Koreans.
Suicide in South Korea occurs at the highest suicide rate among the 30 OECD countries. Its rate surpassed that of Japan. In the last decade alone, the toll of suicide deaths in South Korea doubled. A 2010 government report reveals that suicide is number one cause of death for those under 40 in South Korea.
According to Digital Journal , suicide in South Korea has also been connected to the Korean concept of “han”, a stoicism linked to thoughts of anger when faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation. Han has a deep history in Korean society and is linked to depression. It reportedly happens when people cannot show their cool selves, thus leading to frustration and taking drastic actions.
Little Swallow belongs to a new group of women, who works to starve off depression. Many married women in Korea don’t, apparently. At first happy to stay home, they soon realize that centering their lives around their families eventually create the problems of loneliness when their children grow up. Communication problems also arise with many married couples, from being a male-dominated society.
Self-Love and Plastic Surgery
Then, there is also the matter of plastic surgery. According to some reports, Korea has the highest rate of going under the knife. It is a society that stresses on looking perfect. In fact, it is now widely known that Seoul is the go-to place to get a nip or tuck. The Korean look, with high cheekbones and sculptured features appeals to many Asians. To understand how pervasive plastic surgery is, a BBC news report in 2009 has the conservative estimate of 50% of all South Korean women going for some form of cosmetic surgery by the time they turn 20.
Little Swallow shared about how advanced Korea was in the “invasive” aesthetic department. Which leads us to wonder to whether she has had any cosmetic surgery done or not. Well, she confessed to having gotten a botox treatment once. However, she shared that she would never do so again. She has learned to accept herself in many ways and that there is no need for looking “plastic”.
Ask For Acknowledgement
Every evening, en-route to our hotel, Little Swallow would ask for a clap of hands. It had been a hard day’s work for her. We were asked to acknowledge her efforts by clapping if we had appreciated how she had conducted the tour and secured some of the best deals for us each day. We gladly did that. We knew that Little Swallow had justly earned our appreciation. It was clear that her work had exceeded our expectations.
Which made me question how many of us do this. How many of us have the guts to stand up to our bosses and clients to ask for what we deserve? The thing is that we expect others to know how to show their appreciation towards us. But do they really know how we would like to be appreciated?
Self-Love Lesson Takeaways
1. I think it is a wonderful idea to undertake preventive measures to beat depression. Little Swallow decided that hers would be taking on part-time work as a tour guide. Amazingly, she even emerged as one of the top guides in her company.
Certainly, be in touch with the world, even if your decision is to be a stay-at-home parent. While you can make friends over Facebook, it is also a good idea to go out physically to make and meet people on a regular basis. Additionally, it is very important to establish good communication lines with your loved ones especially your spouse or partner.
2. The high rate of plastic surgery probably explains the high suicide rates too. It goes to show when there is too much emphasis on outward beauty, people are not discovering enough about themselves. As wise sage, Lao Tzu, said, “The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.”
Where there are stress triggers, it is easy to fall into depression. Luckily, there are some like Little Swallow who has the sense to accept herself, despite not having stellar looks and living in a society that prices picture-perfect looks.
3. Self-love is being able to ask for what we want. It pays to be direct. Beating around the bush may not lead us to receiving the thing we are hoping for. Hence, it is important to be clear in our asking. We may not necessarily get what we want but at least, we are closer to the mark.
I had gone to Korea because I wanted to visit a country for its beautiful sightseeing spots. However, I found very much more. There were so many factual things I learned about the country; but it is in Little Swallow that I discovered wisdom, grace and beauty.
Any thoughts about loving yourself in the face of mounting pressure to look beautiful? Do you face the same pressures from where you come from? Also, how do you cope with the stress of living a fast paced modern life while trying to keep important cultural traditions alive?