YHB/The devoted

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The members of the YKU studied day and night, from books they bought from Korea and books that were donated by the members. Yoon also joined the study group sessions and participated in the discussions. The discussions were always centered around action – “What can we do?” Yoon was not a theoretician but an activist.

Yoon was not an agitator, and he wasn’t a confident public speaker either. But he was a good story teller. When Yoon took the stage, he stepped up on the podium with hesitation. But soon, he had the audience hanging on his every word. He knew how to open people’s hearts.

The members of the YKU cherished – and continue to cherish – Yoon, because he changed their way of life. Yoon taught the members to lead by action. He emphasized that every member of the YKU should be an example to his peers. Yoon repeated, “If we want to change the world, first, we must change ourselves.”

And what kind of actions would change the world? Yoon spoke of the little things – when you use the last of the toilet paper, put a new roll in its place. When you eat out, stack the dishes in one pile for the waiter. The trivial lifestyle changes that Yoon suggested touched the lives of those who understood the greater philosophy behind such small acts of care and kindness.

But for Yoon, there was a virtue even greater than kindness. Kim Hee-sook recalled Yoon saying, “Kindness isn’t the most important virtue.” He went onto explain, “Look at the Miss Korea competition. Beauty is only the third criteria – goodness is the second, because goodness is a higher virtue than beauty. But truth is the first and most important criteria. Without truth, kindness means nothing. That’s why we must seek to find the truth.”

He then turned to Miss Kim, and said, “What do you think? If you don’t know the truth, you can’t do anything, but if you know the truth and fail to act on it, then you’re committing a crime!”

Yoon continued, “First change your way of life; then change the world. How can someone who fails to change his own life change the life of others? To become a trustworthy person, remember these principles: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Do as you preach. Be responsible and loyal. Lead a diligent and simple life. Be mild-mannered but indignant in the face of injustice. After doing the dishes, clean up the water – even the water on the floor, and water that dripped into places you can’t see. Someone who cleans only what can be seen cannot call himself an activist.”

Yoon lived by these principles. One day, the toilet of the school was clogged with excrement. Yoon volunteered to put his hand into toilet and pull out the excrement.

It was common, even in America, for the elders to be authoritarian. Many were obsessed with hierarchy – some would get angry about the order in which they were greeted. They wanted special privileges according to their age and expected the younger people to run errands.

But Yoon was unaffected by this way of thinking. Shin Kyung-hee, a colleague who later married Yoon, said:

If he [Yoon] had been an authoritarian, it would have been impossible for me to even approach him. I was a rabbit hopping around on a tiger's back. This isn’t to say he wasn’t strict. Yoon was unforgiving, especially during meetings. But he never let anyone lord it over others, including himself. No matter how young a member was, Yoon treated him with respect and kindness. It was easy to become friends with him.”

Yoon also told members to be considerate towards women, people of color, the disabled, and the elderly. Yoon made it a rule to say “Native Americans” instead of “Indians,” and “African Americans” instead of “Blacks.”

Yoon told his followers to let go of their need for outside approval. He challenged them to free themselves from the need to be publicly recognized.

Through Yoon’s hard work, the YKU established a dozen branches and community centers in two years. As planned, each community center had its own name; for instance, the community center in San Jose was called “Korean Education and Service Center,” and the one in New York was called “Minkown (civil rights) Center.”

The community centers of each region received recognition as a nonprofit organization and were exempt from taxes. This made it necessary to keep a list of board of directors. The elders of each region were appointed to these positions, and the members of the YKU served as managers, while other members served as volunteers.