When my family left the theater a few days ago, my sister was in a rush so that she could be on time for her part-time job. I asked her whether or not it mattered if she arrived a little late. “The restaurant manager said that he was going to fire some of the unreliable part-timers since the restaurant has recently experienced a decrease in sales,” she explained. “So I might be fired if I am late today.” The following day, I read a short story that was called “Fired,” which I had read about a year ago. The story felt different this time, however, because of what my sister had said to me.
I had previously understood it to be about the conflict between a part-time worker and a middle manager, and I had just focused on the plot which I will now briefly describe. The new boss of a company orders a manager named Eun-young to dismiss an underperforming part-timer named Hye-mi. After Eun-young says goodbye to Hye-mi after having informed her that a decision had been made to fire her, she puts in an appeal against her manager, stating the relevant regulations of discharge. As a result, Eun-young provides her junior staff with rights that are guaranteed by the regulations and offers Hye-mi a retirement fund. Later on Eun-young even pays the redundant worker a settlement based on insurance issues with her own money. When they meet for the last time, Eun-young asks Hye-mi, “Was everything (you did) planned from the beginning?” However, Hye-mi just says good-bye to her and the story ends.
When I read it for the second time, I did not just feel sorry for Hye-mi. Rather, I decided to put myself in her position, imagining that my sister could find herself in a similar situation. As a result, I saw Hye-mi’s actions in a completely different light. Her demand for rights as a part-time worker and statement about the regulations were “just.” In fact, the company should have given her those rights before she made her appeal. Why then did I accept the story as simply being a dispute between two people, missing this point first time round? More to the point, why did I see Hye-mi’s demands for her rights as being the primary cause of the conflict?
The ostensible reason is that there is a gap between the story’s content and format. The main content relates to Hye-mi’s removal from her job but it is seen from Eun-young’s point of view, and we can therefore only be aware of her state of mind. Those readers who would naturally see things from the perspective of the middle manger would not be sympathetic towards Hye-mi, as they would tend to see her conduct as having been “planned.” However, this approach does not provide us with a sufficient explanation of the situation. Perhaps, the reason why I was uncomfortable with Hye-mi’s actions was due to the perception of part-time workers in South Korean society that is inherent in all of us. The perception is that you may “easily fire part-timers” and how dare they ask for “workers’ rights.”
Part-timers are not alone in being treated in this way. In our society, the weak need to look after themselves, just like Hye-mi, if they are to be granted their fundamental rights. A few weeks ago, the parents of disabled children had to fight for their rights. On Sept. 5, residents in Seoul’s Gangseo district gathered to discuss the future of a public real estate project. The parents asked for the establishment of a school for the disabled. However, some residents fiercely opposed their request, as they were worried about declining real estate values as a result of the new school. Despite making a reasonable request, the parents eventually knelt in front of their opponents, begging for their understanding. The right to receive basic education is a fundamental human right secured by the constitution. Nonetheless, for disabled children to enjoy their basic rights in this country, their parents have to kneel.
The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman stated that “Unbloody people’s indifference to others makes a bloody society possible.” Many ordinary people, who are not cruel, including myself, have allowed society’s cruelty to flourish. We all live our normal lives while ignoring the pain of other people and their reasonable demands. Only if we listen to their voices can this brutal aspect of our nation become a thing of the past. If we do not, it could be members of our own families who become the next victims.