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Serving the few benefits the many

Minority needs reveal how interconnected we are

Joseph Pak, Seoul

Joseph Pak, Seoul

Published: November 23, 2012 06:37 AM GMT

Updated: November 22, 2012 07:21 PM GMT

Serving the few benefits the many

Often those who serve the needs of vulnerable people do so with a sense of superiority, while others grudge the expense of serving a small group instead of focusing on the needs of the many.

Jesus tells us that, “what you did not do for one of the least ones, you did not do for me.” I understand this to mean that when we fail to serve the needs of the minority, we fail to do so for everyone, even ourselves.

People tend to think that social welfare programs are socially expensive, but they are not.

This month a United States transportation website picked the 10 best subway systems in the world, and Seoul ranked first among them. In the write-up, the author mentioned walled-in entry doors to the trains set the system apart from those of other cities and “which makes the whole thing seem like something from the future.”

These walls and doors separate the platform from the track and open only when trains enter the station – for reasons that most people in Seoul keenly understand. They were originally designed to prevent suicides.

For years South Korea has topped the charts of suicide rates across the world. About 25 years ago, I witnessed one such tragic event.

When the doors were introduced, many criticized the cost of implementing them in the city’s 351 stations. They called the doors a waste of money.

Aside from preventing suicide, the new doors also cut down on noise and debris from the friction of wheels on rails.

Later, local artists began to post poems and other works of art on the doors. The government eventually discovered that they could serve well as information boards for commuters. Now the space is sold for advertising. 

This case in point reminds me that technology of various sorts introduced for specific or minority needs quite often benefits the needs of all people.

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Others include the “safety bicycle” that features our modern diamond-shaped frame. It was introduced in the late 19th century for the benefit largely of women and met with widespread derision.

The automatic transmission on automobiles came about to better serve the needs of returning World War I veterans, many of whom had lost limbs in the war.

So serving the “least among us” is in fact serving the whole, though it might not be plainly apparent right away.

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