“Peace is When You Love Something”

My 4-year-old niece Quynh was speaking to her mom and she shared:

“Do you know what peace is? Peace is when you love something. That’s not something you learned in school, huh mommy?”

Childlike wonder and openness has much to teach us. I pay close attention to kids because of their honesty, forthrightness and love. I also believe this is the case with many elderly in our society. There is wisdom that we can learn and apply if we are receptive.

South Korea has been in the midst of much global movement and news this year, and I’ve been in Seoul on business over the past two weeks. As part of my day, I read different publications to stay atuned to events, trends, opportunities and challenges. A few days ago, I opened up the Financial Times to see the following headline:

What a juxtaposition from “Peace is when you love something.”

While in Korea, I have listened to and watched what is around me. I see a country that is incredibly strong and determined. In a span of 50 years, South Korea (a country of 51.25 million people) has produced a deep infrastructure of education, national healthcare and innovation, including global companies and technology leaders such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai. I have seen this in my everyday business meetings, which are centered around an optical engineering company that is bringing new technologies to disease detection and medicine.

Yet what I look for more is what Quynh was speaking about. I looked and found love expressed in many ways. I found it in kind gestures of folks who helped me feel welcome and guided me through my stay, in the laughter of playful teens on the subway, in the warm embrace of a business partner in Daejeon (a city two hours away from Seoul), in the light-hearted and caring way that a group of childhood friends (many of whom just turned 40) were trying to enlighten one individual on how to be a better communicator with his girlfriend.

I also propose that love is time, attention and care for what we are doing. I’ve always felt welcomed  in Korea by someone who I’ve shared very little language with, due to his speaking Korean and my speaking English. With that said, it never fails that we greet one another warmly on the street or I’ll stop by the window of his business to wave hello.

The first time I met Mr. Che was last winter. I had flown to Seoul for meetings and on the morning after arrival, I realized that the heel of my dress shoe was falling off. Embarrassed, I asked the hotel’s front desk manager if she could point me towards a shoe repair store: “I think there’s a shoe place down the street”; Me: “Will I be able to see it?”; “Yes. [Slight hesitation.]  You can’t miss it.”

A few minutes later, I found and entered Mr. Che’s shoe repair store, a shop that you might imagine as a small and modest stand for selling newspapers, but with a sliding glass door. It is probably less than 60 square feet in area, with supplies stacked along each wall and a welcoming bench upon which customers can sit.

The level of focus and care that I saw Mr. Che put into my shoes left a mark on me. During the winter, he has a constantly warming pan of wax to protect shoes and as he added a new heel to my shoe, he cut away the excess rubber with his razor spatula sliding effortless across the shoe’s contour. His attention didn’t flicker and you could feel his full engagement in what he was doing. I tell you, those shoes gave me an invisible spring in my step for the whole trip, because I knew he had worked on them with years of care and mastery. And yes, love.

Video Caption: Mr. Che recently working on a pair of my boots. I am sitting about 4 feet across from him on a bench.

We cannot communicate with a full repertoire of Korean or English language, yet we understand and have mutual respect and friendship.

Love has numerous expressions. We often think of it as interpersonal, but most importantly, it is loving ourselves greater and greater, as we learn to accept ourselves, whole and all. This then radiates in all directions.

On a daily level, I’ve learned that love is doing what we do, whatever we do, with care, attention and focus. It may be in a conversation, it may be a craft, it may be working as part of a company, it may be teaching, it may be washing the dishes after a meal. We can each develop ways to express our attention, love and mastery in moment-to-moment activities. When we can do this, it has a huge effect. Even if we don’t consciously notice it, it is there and we can feel it.

I flash back and forth to some of the global events shaping our world. The Winter Olympics will be held starting on February 9th in Pyeongchang, South Korea (a city about 3 hours east of Seoul by car).

I plan to attend these Games. The gathering of the world’s attention, hopes and dreams on this small part of South Korea, is a timely opportunity for fellowship — and indeed, light — in the midst of turbulence. For me, there is also something about the Olympics in Korea, because of my ongoing experience and because I recall the 1988 Seoul Olympics as my first memory of the Olympic Games (along with the 1988 Calgary Olympics in Calgary, Canada).

I also think about what I can do right now, as an everyday plan, to be peace. This is something each of us can do. It reminds me of what my niece shared, what I see in the actions of people like Mr. Che, what I see in my grandmother and my mentor and in the loving care of so many parents, including my own. It is what I know is possible in each moment – to do whatever we are doing with attention, care and love.

“Peace is when you love something.”

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