Friday, 24 January 2014

The Genetic Predisposition of Han

Han is frequently translated as sorrow, spite, rancor, regret, resentment or grief, among many other attempts to explain a concept that has no English equivalent. Han is an inherent characteristic of the Korean character and as such finds expression, implied or explicit, in nearly every aspect of Korean life and culture.

Han is sorrow caused by heavy suffering, injustice or persecution, a dull lingering ache in the soul. It is a blend of lifelong sorrow and resentment, neither more powerful than the other. Han is imbued with resignation, bitter acceptance and a grim determination to wait until vengeance can at last be achieved.

Han is passive. It yearns for vengeance, but does not seek it. Han is held close to the heart, hoping and patient but never aggressive. It becomes part of the blood and breath of a person. There is a sense of lamentation and even of reproach toward the destiny that led to such misery.

The concept of Han is seen as unique to Korean culture but I don't necessarily agree. I've seen Han, or aspects of Han, in many other cultures that ascribe to something similar... some of these cultures have a history of oppression and in others, Han could be derived perhaps from different circumstances or reasons. One such group are the Iranians. 

Mohammed Asad described in poignant detail the malaise and melancholy that plague the Iranian people as a result of generational mourning from one era to the next over the deaths of the Prophet Mohammed's (saw) grandsons, Hassan and Hussain (ra). In this way, I think that Han either is, or can become, genetic in a sense - learned behaviour over many generations... until it becomes so ingrained in the sub-consciousness of a nation, that even when far removed from the country and all cultural aspects of it, the individual cannot escape the stench of inexplicable emotions inherited from eras gone by - a sense of loss with no purpose or meaning, and lacking in understanding too.

Sometimes I wonder if I too, suffer from some aspect of Han, unbeknownst to me. It would certainly explain the sporadic restlessness and unfounded yearning for something, someplace, that I have yet to become acquainted with... a longing and yearning for that which I do not know and have no prior knowledge of.

In the grander scheme of things, I'm inclined to think that this sort of general discontent is a waste of time and good energy. I don't advocate or endorse that martyr mentality...or any kind of defeatist attitude. But what do I know? I'm sure there is more to Han that can be explained in passing.  As Bruce Lee once said, "Sorrow's are our best educators. A man can see further through a tear than a telescope".

17 comments:

  1. I think that it comes down to whether the glass is half empty or half full. Viktor Frankl (Man's Search for Meaning) discusses unavoidable suffering in a very constructive way and it a must-read. "Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose."

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    1. I suppose Frankl was on to something there LL... but I can't escape the feeling that there is more to Han than meets the eye. I don't think the likes of me can fully comprehend it.

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  2. I believe we are all guilty of some form of discontent and restlessness at times. Part of human nature. I also believe that it can very much be a learnt behaviour and hard to shake. Love the Bruce Lee quote. It's true: you can't know the Jam without the Han.

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    1. I agree Juliette. I find that negative emotions are easier to maintain than positive ones. It's like we were designed, or rather we are inclined to choose to be these tragic creatures.

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  3. First of all, I learn so much from you. You're right, there is no English equivalent to this... maybe really just a deeper sense of melancholy. Secondly, I definitely understand the restlessness that happens, particularly when I'm bored. It's not enough to stay in motion (although that fixes it for a time) but it needs to be a real pursuit of something worthwhile. A challenge. A problem. One that has a solution within grasp as well (none of that futile stuff)

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    1. I guess most of us can identity with some aspect of Han, Rooth. We're all trying to fill some kind of void - a void that our minds cannot fully comprehend.

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  4. Although it's not something I spend much time thinking about, I've totally got a case of Han. By the time they reach a certain age and experience level, I bet most thinking people could say the same.

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    1. I think most of us suffer from some element of Han, Roving Retorter. Especially true considering the general morose state that the world is in.

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  5. I think it is a beautiful word, and describes it so eloquently.

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  6. interesting. I wasn't familiar with the word, but I agree, the concept is widespread. I think you find it to some extend in many cultures. learned and unfortunately unconscious pain and resentment that lead to all kinds of tension and problems. I don't know if you are familiar with Eckhard Tolle. he describes something similar and calls in the pain body. he sees it more in individuals, pain that we inherit from our parents and grandparents, but he also agrees that there are national pain bodies.

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    1. I've read excerpts from one of Eckhart Tolle's books Petra - although now I'm inspired to read the entire book!.

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    1. Are you criticizing my grammar or spelling Blue? :D

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    2. Never. I just can't believe you could suffer from some aspect of Han without realizing it, is all. :)

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    3. @Blue - I think it's quite possible. Just look in the mirror Mr. BLUE ;)

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    4. You know I prefer not to. :(

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