Korea’s Armel Lee & WooStories: Caliber that Embraces Diverse Voices

By Jisou “Armel” Lee, 2020 Luce 24 Under 24 Award Recipient
The College of Wooster

New York, N.Y.  Leadership is a well-known and difficult skill set to practice in real life. One has to consider the era, the circumstances, and the tendencies of the one that practices it and of others that cooperate, when practicing it. Perhaps due to this difficulty and ambiguity, leadership is often everyone’s favorite topic on a table. Nonetheless, this leadership has been clear to me. I believe that I can explain through my experience with the WooStories program.

600-photo2_Jisou Armel Lee (1) copy

WooStories is a workshop program I initiated as an undergrad. It aims to gather individuals with various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives as speakers and provides a safe-space platform to share their personal stories. As speakers often talk about their lives, identities, and cultures, WooStories addresses an opportunity to think about subjects that individuals hardly encounter in their daily lives. Through this process, the audiences may challenge their stereotypes and learn about different perspectives by listening to people who are directly involved in the subjects.

Running WooStories, I could meet a wonderfully diverse circle of people. From individuals with various identities, including race, gender, religion. I met a friend who defines themself as non-binary, identifying as neither exclusively masculine nor feminine, and a Lithuanian friend, whose country contains Post-Soviet culture embedded in their historical backgrounds. There were numerous individuals with diverse ideas, experiences, but my favorite one was about my friend, Molly.

600-photo3_Jisou Armel Lee (1) copy

Molly was from an upper-middle-class white family, and although she was unaware at the time, she and her family benefited from the social construct of white privilege. Growing up, her friend group had been racially diverse, but she failed to understand why others would treat them differently – she later realized it was racism. When racism occurs, it is difficult to control the circumstances from the position that receives the treatment. Due to this peculiarity, she was trapped in her own compunction and had difficulties in making and getting along with new friends of different races. Until she participated in WooStories, she said she was still figuring out how to behave in particular situations. 

Molly’s story was not perceived in the program. She had to take time to share this story with me and my team because she was not sure if her story would cause negative responses from her listeners. She was afraid of doing wrong, nonetheless she willingly put herself in an uncomfortable position for those around her.

Every time I organized WooStories, I sat in the corner of a circle, watching how the session goes. I was relieved and thankful that none of the audiences were aggressive, and most of them listened patiently to their speakers’ stories and tried to engage in the conversations. The audiences demonstrated well-kept patience, and the speakers transferred their experiences to match their audiences’ levels, and thus were not hesitant to repeat what they had said before. That Molly could share her experiences and receive comfort from WooStories all resulted from the participants’ efforts. Looking back on WooStories, I now recognize that they are young global leaders.

In a society where everyone has a story and it is difficult to be heard, young global leadership is critical for three reasons. First, young global leadership is the leadership of courage. American author Peter McWilliams said, “Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.” When facing uncomfortable things, people avoid them, but young global leaders do not. Young global leaders willingly face uncomfortable things to solve the problems and make changes. For Molly, despite the difficulty of overcoming uncomfortableness, she chose to share it, and it took only a moment for her to decide. It illustrates how deeply she thought of the issues of racism and considered the ways to tackle them. Like Molly, young global leaders who prepare for change have embers called courage as a cause of a big fire in their hearts.

Second, young global leadership is the leadership of listening. As a leader, if you conduct any action, there needs to be careful listening first. Without properly understanding others, a leader cannot stand as a leader. To understand colleagues, create harmony among them, and make the right decisions, there is no more essential first step to take than listening.

Active listening leads to development, and it helps us attain holistic perspectives on things. we can understand others’ ideas and viewpoints, considering their backgrounds and positions, once we listen carefully to their words. The word “understand” is not a synonym for agreeing, but rather that one embarks on the process of accepting their opinions and viewpoints and, therefore, expanding one’s ideas and perspectives. Hence, understanding is a process of developing oneself.

The conversations between the participants of WooStories are full of the similarities and the differences that they have from each other. However, they never argue or make others yield. They share why and how they have attained such viewpoints and try to understand how other people have become who they are today. Through this procedure, the participants learn who each of us is and how each of us looks at the world. Therefore, we help each other better build the basic skills to embrace differences.

Third, young global leadership is the leadership of cooperation. We are able to empathize with others’ sentiments when we listen to their words and are able to understand their thoughts and perspectives. Empathy shifts our ideas into actions, and that we join others and practice actions together is the form of cooperation. 

Young global leaders are the pronouns of action. Once they see an opportunity, they jump in, bringing change in the process. A notable climate activist, Greta Thunberg even began her activism through a one-man protest holding a Fridays for Future sign. Her hard work and devotion led many other young global leaders to empathize with the issue, and environmental policies have now settled on the top of many political figures’ agenda. Young global leaders may begin small but do not end small as we have allies who listen to our words and empathize with us.  

When the wind blows, a big fire spreads embers. Young global leaders keep embers in their bosoms, listening to others, and taking actions with them. Their actions soon spread their embers to other people’s hearts, and it causes other big fires, which spread more fires in a wider distance. Although the embers in our hearts may look small today, it will not die soon, but blaze up instead. Young global leaders are the ones with passionate hearts.

Jisou “Armel” Lee

600-photo1_Jisou Armel Lee copyJisou “Armel” Lee…

About The J. Luce Foundation
The Mission of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation, Inc. (www.LuceFoundation.org) is to support young global leadership impacting positive social change, particularly in the fields of the Arts, Education and Orphan Care. Related charities include Orphans International Worldwide (OIW) and The New York Global Leaders Lions Club, both founded by Jim Luce. 

Luce 24 Under 24 Virtual Awards Ceremony Set For Sept. 24 (9/20)
‘Luce 24 Under 24’ Summer Soirée Set for July 24 at the China Institute (6/19)
J. Luce Foundation Announces First ‘Luce 24 Under 24’ Awards (5/19)
J. Luce Leadership Team Lauded by Forbes, Gates, Ford Foundation (9/18)

The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.