Tuesday, August 10, 2010


My mother named me 정은 (Jeong-on) when I was born, but nobody ever calls me by this name, not even when I’m in trouble.  Lately, though, I’ve been hearing about 정 (Jeong), a concept permeating Korean interpersonal relationships, and am curious if my mother had this in mind in giving me a name to grow into.  

Jeong (정) has no direct English translation and is an ambiguous term to begin with, but I’ll do my best to explain it.  

Jeong refers to a strong personal bond that isn’t necessarily grounded in shared interests or experiences as friendships are in Western culture.  Jeong can exist between two or more individuals as can it develop between a person and an object, for example a hometown or house.  Jeong can be a collective emotion that encompasses loyalty, commitment, and reciprocity that transcends logic or reason.  Jeong can exist in both platonic and romantic relationships, though it isn’t an essential component to them.  I don’t think one chooses to enter into a Jeong relationship, but rather it finds us.  It may develop over time, but it could also be an instantaneous connection.  In strengthening jeong, there is the tendency of preserving interdependency and the collective, perhaps at the sake of the individual. 

Even though this concept of Jeong is new to me, I think I already have it in my life.  It explains the unbelievable, almost unsettling affinity I feel with my closest friends, some of whom I’ve known for a relatively short amount of time.  Somehow they seem to understand what I am feeling and trying to express in so much fewer words than others.       I am beginning to experience Jeong here in Goesan, South Korea and I hope for it to develop even more during the next year. 

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