This article by Dr. Luke Kim is part of a series designed to teach families about Korean culture. For a listing of all the articles in the series, click here.
The concept of love has been richly dealt with in the history of Western culture and religions. The Western concept of love includes a variety of types: divine love (agape), erotic love, maternal love, brotherly/sisterly love, platonic love, altruistic love, to name a few. But jeong does not fit into any one of these categories. Jeong can be love in the Western sense, but there are important differences in the nuance and quality. I would characterize those differences as follows:
• More direct in expression
• More physical, behavioral
• More action-oriented
• Active, positive, forward, outward
• More need/desire-related
• More intentional, volitional
• Tends to be possessive
• More contractual
• Differentiated with boundary
• Separated self
• Happiness, joy
• More indirect in emotional expression
• More affective, attitudinal
• More relational
• Passive/aggressive, waiting, thinking, more inward
• More survival- and connection-related
• More naturally developing
• Tends to be protective
• More unconditional
• Less differentiated and more fused
• More "good earth-mother" archetype
• Enduring warmth, care and love
We can also contrast the imagery of erotic love with that of jeong. Erotic love can be described as hot, fiery, dynamic, intense, mercurial, pleasurable, unpredictable and powerful. The imagery of jeong, on the other hand, is quiet, gentle, nurturing, caring, giving, trusting, loyal, considerate, devoted, dependable and sacrificial (Wee hae joon da). Reflecting on the above list of adjectives, I feel that the jeong concept has a more feminine quality of love, similar to the "self in relation" theory of the feminine psychology, which emphasizes caring, connectedness and nurturing relations in love.
There is a Korean expression, "go woon jeong, mi woon jeong," meaning "a beautiful jeong and hateful jeong." The idea is that once jeong is established between the two persons, the jeong bond and trust is unbreakable, even if the relationship goes through hateful and turbulent periods. The Buddhist implication is that the two are bonded together effectively forever by fate, whether they like it or not.
Luke Kim, M.D., Ph.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at University of California School of Medicine. He is a board member of Friends of Korea organization in Sacramento, California, and a friend and supporter of Korean Quarterly newspaper.
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