The Battle between Principle versus People

If you are caught choosing between your principles in life and the people, who/what will you choose?

Art is an expression of the society. It explains, classifies and mirrors life. Travelling to different places and encountering different cultures opened my eyes in this so-called life but what helped me the most in understanding their customs is through media– like television shows or dramas that emanate their values. 

A screenshot from Rookie Historian (Episode 14)

 I’m fond of watching Korean dramas, be it romantic comedy, historical, action or fantasy. I was able to learn about their culture through watching every drama I find interesting. It introduced me to their food like their famous Samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) and Kimchi (traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables with many seasonings). Even the way they dress before with Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and converse with each other to how craftily they mix their old tales to the modern era, all are shown in their dramas– but then, there’s this one drama that intrigued me the most.

I happened to watch a Korean historical drama named Rookie Historian.  It’s a story of a female Historian breaking the status quo during the Joseon Dynasty where women are objectified and underestimated. Aside from this issue, there were also some underlying issues shown in the drama like, oppression, capitalism, slavery, censorship of the arts, of knowledge and creed, authoritarianism and not giving the poor proper health care.  It’s a long drama with 20 episodes and each episode is an hour long.  

In the drama, the prime duty of the Historians was to record everything that’s happening in the Kingdom without interfering with the political affairs (whether they like the government’s decision or not) and alternating the events in the Sachaek (a book of historical records). Even using the Sachaek to threaten somebody is a form of crime and disobedience. They must vow to keep this duty and live the principled and privileged opportunity of being one of the Kingdom’s Historians as they are the ones who will tell the story of an era.

There’s this one episode when a Catholic Westerner arrived at the Kingdom to find his older brother who was killed because he was a doctor (it was prohibited in their Kingdom to study medicine from a Westerner). The Catholic Westerner was able to hide inside the Kingdom with the help of the Kingdom’s young Prince who was naive and innocent, and does not engage himself with any political affairs of the Kingdom. Upon hearing this news, the Emperor ordered to kill all the Catholics simply because they are Catholics and that they might be connected with the Westerner on the loose. 

A screenshot from Rookie Historian (Episode 15)

One of the Historians, Historian Seong, was actually a Catholic in disguise. He has been serving and keeping his faith for he believes that it’s the religion for him where he can enjoy the equality of mankind. The weight of the problem for Historian Seong was heavy for he was in a situation where he had to choose between saving his fellow Catholics or being true to his duty. He chose to save his people by threatening the Emperor that he will tell the Kingdom about how the young Prince was helping the Westerner if he continues the killing and instead offered himself to bear the weight of the punishment by disobeying his duty as a Historian. The Chief Historian told Historian Seong that he should’ve just let the Emperor decide rather than interfering with his rage about the Catholics for it will reflect on the succeeding dynasties and let the future eras judge this phenomenon. But Historian Goo Hae Ryung, the brave female historian, intervened, “How can you put principles above people?”

In WYA’s Certified Training Program, George Weigel mentions two ideas of Freedom: Freedom for Excellence and Freedom of Indifference.  Freedom for Excellence is the capacity to choose wisely and to act well as a matter of habit– or, to use the old-fashioned term, as an outgrowth of virtue.  Through the exercise of both our reason and our will, we act on the natural longing for truth, goodness, and happiness that is built into us as human beings. We exercise freedom for excellence for us to achieve more and do better, not only for ourselves but for others as well. As a human person, we have the capacity to see others with human dignity, to see others have the capacity to do more and be more. Having freedom is connected to our dignity because freedom is related to actions.  It is simply not “to do what I want” as what was stated in Freedom of Indifference. Freedom of Indifference, on the other hand, is a neutral faculty of choice. Here, choice is everything for choice is a matter of self-assertion and power. Freedom of Indifference cannot sustain a truly free society.  

Freedom is a manifestation of dignity.  If we understand that every human person has an intrinsic and inviolable dignity, we can establish a free and just multicultural society since we are able to respect each others’ beliefs. Just like Historian Seong, he chose to sacrifice his duty because he saw that the Catholics in distress are just like him too. He is not superior to them and that they are all equal and the same.

So, if you’re put in his situation, what would you choose: principle or people?

Published: October 8, 2019
Written by Vam Macabanti, a New York Marketing intern from the Philippines

Certified members are equipped to articulate and defend the principles of the dignity of the person within the public square. Curious about our Certified Training Program? Get in touch with your regional office to learn how you can be part our next batch of trainees!