“I would strangle everyone in this room if it somehow prolonged my son’s life.” That’s what I blurted into a microphone during a panel discussion on ethics. I was laughing when I said it, but the priest sitting next to me turned sharply in horror and the communist sitting next to him raised her hand to her throat and stare daggers at me. Why was I on a panel with a priest and a revolutionary communist? Long story – not very interesting: we were debating the future of ethics with special attention to the role of religion. The interesting part, however, is that at some point, after we all shook hands as adults and I was on my way home, I realized I meant it – I would choke them all. Well, of course, one can’t be entirely sure that one’s action will follow one’s intentions. The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. But, given some weird Twilight Zone scenario wherein all their deaths somehow saved my son’s life, I was at least hypothetically committed. The caveman intentions were definitely there.
One of the most rewarding and most painful aspects of interacting with others in a foreign culture is the dizzying succession of daily moral conundrums that assault the expatriate. The defining cultural conflict of my tenure in South Korea has been my complete inability, indeed resistance, to forming work relationships, or nepotism.