A thermostat or thermometer for freedom? (Korea Times, August 26, 2015)

A thermostat or thermometer for freedom?

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

“What can be done about North Korea? How can we help North Koreans?” Those are the Big Questions that were recently asked of North Korean refugee Shin Dong-hyuk when we were both speakers at the World Conference on Market Liberalization held on Bali from June 28 to July 4.

Those Big Questions are almost always asked at North Korea-related events, but I have yet to see a questioner satisfied: “At last! That is the answer to the North Korea problem and clear guidance on what I can do.” Instead, questioners with those Big Questions nod with frustrated smiles as they take a seat, waiting for the next forum and expert to tell them what to do.

Well-funded governments, international organizations, and numerous one-man NGOs don’t know what to do about North Korea. NK News asked several North Korean refugees, but they came up with conflicting answers. At a speech contest that I hosted earlier this year, seven North Korean refugees addressed the imperative, “How you can help North Koreans.” There was not one magical solution, even among refugees.

After three years of discussing North Korea, I must calm down by counting to 10 before answering the Big Questions. At other times, such as the Bali conference, I don’t wait for Q&A, I cut off the Big Questioners by answering the questions during my speech. I highlight suggestions in several categories, as made by various North Korea experts. Then I politely suggest that the audience members choose one, and get started.

Shin, born in a prison camp in North Korea and still learning about the world, told the Big Questioners at the Bali conference what they need to hear. One: no one has the complete answer about what to do. Otherwise, they would have already done it. Two: if he had the answer, he would not have waited until he arrived on Bali to announce it.

I love Shin’s answer, but I do want to add something that 19th century American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said about activism in his day, when people asked what they should do to fight slavery: “Give the tools to those who can use them.” That is, use your skills for the appropriate job. Some workers love counting paper clips, others are big vision types who see the forest, not the trees. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

I think people know this. But that’s just like we know we should exercise and eat right. Knowing and doing are different, as those of us who are under-using our latest gym membership know.

If you come across a friend in a fight, would you ask, “How can I help?” You’d probably assess the situation, figure out what you could do, and then do something, ranging from jumping in, calling the police, to asking others to join in to break up the fight. When it comes to North Korea, many are by-standers politely asking, “How can I help?”

To be clear, I’m not saying that people must get involved with helping North Korean refugees or trying to increase liberty in North Korea; I respect your right to be apathetic, to join mud wrestling festivals, study or work hard, or to play video games (my favorite is still Madden). But to those who do join: find a role for yourself. Don’t wait for a speaker at a conference to tell you what you should do.

I don’t say this as a critic. Rather, it is more of a confession. It took more than a year of knowing North Korean refugees personally before it dawned on me that I could make a difference. At first, I was more of a thermometer, merely registering the temperature, analyzing as a researcher would. My first “activity” about North Korea was organizing and moderating a discussion in September 2011 with Russian-born North Korean scholar Andrei Lankov.

But my focus changed when about 30 North Korean refugees were arrested in China in early 2012. I became more of a thermostat.Whereas a thermometer merely identifies the temperature in a room, a thermostat can control and change the temperature.

These days, when people ask me how they can help, I suggest they click their heels three times, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to find the answer in themselves. They won’t be able to topple the regime orsave the world, but they can find a niche for themselves to help North Koreans.

Get involved, learn about challenges and opportunities, and prepare for the day that you can help or lead based on your skills, interests and tools to eventually become a thermostat. It could even lead you to speaking at international conferences. I will be watching, to see if you count to 10 as people ask you what they should do about North Korea.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu

Original Korea Times link

The Indian Economist

A Thermostat or Thermometer for Freedom?

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.“What can be done about North Korea? How can we help North Koreans?” Those are the big questions that were recently asked of North Korean refugee Shin Dong-hyuk when we speakers at the World Conference on Market Liberalization held in Bali.

These big Questions are constantly asked at North Korea-related events, but I have yet to see a satisfied questioner: “At last! This is the answer to the North Korea problem, clear path to what I can do.” Instead, questioners nod with frustrated smiles as they take a seat, waiting for the next forum and expert to tell them what to do.

“What can be done about North Korea? How can we help North Koreans?” Those are the big questions that were recently asked of North Korean refugee Shin Dong-hyuk when we speakers at the World Conference on Market Liberalization held in Bali.

Well-funded governments, international organizations, and numerous one-man NGOs don’t know what to do about North Korea. NK News asked several North Korean refugees, but they came up with conflicting answers.1 At a speech contest that I hosted earlier this year, seven North Korean refugees addressed the imperative, “How you can help North Koreans.”2 There came not one effective solution, even from them. After three years of discussing North Korea, I still calm myself down by counting to ten before answering the “big questions”.

Shin, born in a prison camp in North Korea and still learning about the world, told the Big Questioners at the Bali conference what they needed to hear. Firstly, that no one has the complete answer as to what should be done; otherwise, they would have already done it. Secondly, if he had the answer, he would not have waited until he arrived on Bali to announce it.

I loved Shin’snk-slogans-305 answer, but I do want to add to it. 19th century American abolitionist Frederick Douglass remarked about activism in his day when people asked how they should fight slavery: “Give the tools to those who can use them.3 That is, use your skills for the appropriate task. Some workers love counting paper clips, others are more perceptive and see the forest, not the trees. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. People know this. But just as we know we should exercise and eat right, yet squander our gym-memberships, knowing and doing are different.

If you come across a friend in a fight, would you ask, “How can I help?” You would assess the situation, figure out what you could do, and then do something, ranging from jumping in, calling the police, to asking others to join in to break up the fight. But in North Korea’s case, most bystanders are politely asking, “How can I help?”

To be clear, I’m not saying that people must get involved with helping North Korean refugees or try to increase liberty in North Korea. But to those who do join: find a role for yourself. Don’t wait for a speaker at a conference to tell you what to do.

I don’t say this as a critic; this is more of a confession. It took more than a year of knowing North Korean refugees personally before it dawned upon me that I could make a difference.4 At first, I was more of a thermometer, merely registering the temperature, analyzing as a researcher would. My first “activity” about North Korea was organizing and moderating a discussion in September 2011 with Russian-born North Korean scholar Andrei Lankov.5

But my focus changed when about 30 North Korean refugees were arrested in China in early 2012. I became more of a thermostat. In contrast to a thermometer merely identifying the temperature in a room, a thermostat can control and change the temperature.

These days, when people ask me how they can help, I suggest they click their heels three times, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to find the answer in themselves. They won’t be able to topple the regime or save the world6, but they can find a niche for themselves to help North Koreans.

Get involved, learn about challenges and opportunities, and so you can contribute based on your skills, interests and tools, eventually becoming a thermostat. It may even lead you to speak at international conferences. I will be watching to see if you count to ten as people ask you what they should do about North Korea.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.7 in Seoul. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu.This article was originally published in the Korea Times on August 26, 2015.8