Here’s an interesting practice. In South Korea, where rapid industrialisation has generated societal angst and personal dysfunction—things capitalism taught us here in the UK ages ago—a Mr Ko Min-su has devised a training course in which participants rehearse their own death. The purpose is to teach them to re-evaluate their priorities and value their lives. The goal is to cut the soaring suicide rate.
Participants are led to a dark room where they are told to sit at candlelit desks and write their wills and leave last messages to their families and loved ones.
Next they collect their funeral portraits, then make their way to the “death experience room”, a room full of open coffins, decorated with pictures of celeb dead people.
Mr Ko instructs his trainees to choose a coffin, put on a traditional hemp death robe and read out their wills one by one.
Next, they are buried. Trainees lie down in their coffins, while a man wearing the outfit of a traditional Korean death messenger places a flower on each person’s chest. Funeral attendants place lids on the coffins, banging each corner several times with a mallet. Dirt is thrown, rat-a-tat-tat, on the lid. The attendants then leave the hall for five minutes – but it seems like 30 minutes to those in the coffins.
Once the lids are lifted, Mr Ko asks the trainees how they felt. “When they were nailing the coffin and sprinkling the dirt, it felt like I was really dead,” says one. “I thought death was far away but now that I have experienced it, I feel like I have to live a better life.”
Mr Ko’s course is very popular, and he’s got patents to run the course in 17 other countries. How would it go down in our own dear UK?
Responses would point up the differences between the two cultures. Brits would not be so acquiescent, would they? They’d rage against the dying of the light with everything from uproariousness to bitter rage. They wouldn’t go gentle, no way, most of them.
What does this tell us, I wonder?