There was a report out of the UK yesterday about a new workplace programme in South Korea. Apparently, reports the BBC and a number of others, South Koreans are struggling with the highest suicide rates in the world. The syndrome appears closely correlated with the long working hours they endure, and the repressive culture which places enormous pressure on its own to comply, keep face and be a working part of a complex patriarchal society.
Some people like that sort of life, it’s not for me, but I really did choke on my Tim Tam when I read about the fifteen minutes in a coffin with the lid shut.
The process goes like this. Workers are allocated to the programme to become more grateful for the lives they lead and, one would suppose, to get some perspective. In order to achieve said perspective, whilst sat in their own funeral robes, they sit quietly and pen their last words to their loved ones, before watching a series of movies about people considered to be far worse off than themselves, with significant disabilities, illnesses and the like.
Next under the watchful gaze of man in a tall hat who represents the Angel of Death, they climb into their own coffin clutching a picture of themselves wrapped in a black ribbon. The lid is closed (presumably by the Angel of Death), and they’re left in quiet contemplation to consider their good fortune. After fifteen minutes, they’re released, and one would imagine, return to their desks with a fresh new, positive outlook on life. Or with the whole coffin experience normalised and feeling even closer to suicide?
Is anyone else with me in finding this idea totally Freak Show? Participants experience a range of emotions from quiet sobbing to wailing with the release of deep rooted grief – for themselves or their loved ones in this staged charade I wonder?
If the society in which we live is so messed up we have to pretend to be dead to recognise our good fortunes, it says something about levels of emotional repression. As I understand it, Korean society is one of deep repression; of face, image and pride which in and of itself is a tricky sea to navigate.
Back at the coffin room, the workers are allegedly roped into to be part of a laughing programme, as well. They’re required to stand at their desks on arrival at the office and engage in repeated rounds of forced laughter. The rationale being that forced laughter actually makes people laugh and feel happy. Apparently this is a form of nurturing but does this baffle you as much as me?
I see a number of parallels between a repressed society and our own corporate lives, but nothing quite as extreme as the Korean idea of personal development. If there are any Korean people reading this I’d love to hear your opinion.