ⓒNaver webtoon "About Death"
Last July 1, 2015, the internet cartoon, referred to as webtoon, “About Death” ended after gaining popularity and leaving the readers with philosophical questions to contemplate on. The cartoon shows reminisces of a dead person, telling readers of the inevitable presence of death, and the thin line that parts life and death. Through this, readers are able to cherish their lives and the people around them, thinking about what we should be regarding as “important.” Touching many hearts and making the readers to trickle down salty water, one of the episodes bring light to the theme of the eyes of others. In this episode, a girl worries about what other might think of her leaving her parents with debts. She criticizes how people are so interested in how other people live their lives, making her overly concerned with how other people will think of her. Then, this so-called “god” throws a question at her. “It’s your life. Are the eyes of others so important?” The turtle drawn in the cartoon signifies the dignity that the turtle has on living its life, moving towards the destination slowly and steadily. Turning the floor to you, how do you live your life? Are you tied by the eyes of others? The Sogang Herald analyzed in depth about how Sogangers are concerned with their appearance.
According to the survey conducted by The Sogang Herald, 89.38% of 160 respondents said that they are concerned with other people’s eyes about their appearances, 10.62% saying that are not. Of those who responded positively, 6.99% said that they are very much concerned, 38.46% much concerned, 46.15% average, 8.39% little, and none for very little. When asked for the utmost reason, fear of evaluation was the biggest, followed by image management, appeal, first impression, and others, consecutively.
Professor Na Jin-kyung (Dept. of Psychology) said that the socio-psychological reason explaining our consciousness of others comes from our interest, stating that humans are social animal. He explained further with the conformity experiment done by socio-psychologist Solomon Asch. In brief, the conformity experiment is a simple experiment asking to choose the stick with a different length than the rest. Four of the subjects were told to intentionally tell the wrong answer, and one was left to see how he or she would respond. Surprisingly, it turned out that 37 out of 50 respondents coincided with the other four and saying the wrong answer. By telling a different answer than the rest, they were afraid of what other people might think of themselves. Thus we are able to see how we are influenced by others. “There is physical reality, but sometimes social reality is also important,” said Prof. Na. “Others’ words and influence may at times affect us more than physical reality.” Moreover, Prof. Na also mentioned that the reason for the awareness of other people’s eyes lies in the fact that we are living in Korea, a society of interdependent, collec tivistic, and face culture. Culture can be divided into many standards such as independent and interdependent culture, dividing upon individual level, and individualistic and collectivistic culture, dividing upon cultural level. The interdependent and collectivistic culture we live in mean that we tend to comprehend the relationships amongst people more strongly, and that we are very much interested in the society we live in. Furthermore, Korea is also a face culture; therefore, what others think about ourselves is more important that how we think about ourselves as in a dignity culture.
We are conscious of other people’s eyes because omnipresently people judge and evaluate people as if running down a checklist of things to satisfy. According to the survey, 92.9% responded that they have judged people by their appearance while 7.1% said that they haven’t. When asked upon the place where you observe others, 25.83% said on the street, 20.48% while using public transportation, 18.43% in class, 13.99% at restaurants, and 11.26% others. However, many respondents attributed the reason to motivation to become a better person by comparing others.
Prof. Na said, “People often times judge people by comparing to themselves— comparison based on relative standard.” There are two types of social comparison, downward comparison, when people compare themselves to people inferior to them; and upward comparison, when people compare themselves to those who are superior to them. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Through downward comparison, we feel positive about ourselves. For example, in the case of downward comparison, after getting a C on your report card, you think positively by thinking about those who have Ds and Fs on theirs. However, in this sense, you no long endeavor to be better. You do not strive to get an A on your test. In other words, judging other people is another way for us to “fit in” the society. We feel a sense of relief that we are part of a society and that we are not behind the trend, and motivate ourselves to further improve.
We cannot assert that being concerned with other people’s eyes, and judging other people is atrocious. Sometimes it helps us in our social life, dealing with relationships. Prof. Na also remarked, “Being conscious of what other people might think and wanting to feel the sense of belonging is not always bad. If it was really bad, this culture would not have continued until now.” However, we should be careful not to exceed the limit and have some dignity in the way we live, just like the little turtle walking slowing in the cartoon. Perhaps a little room for a turtle?