Proverb – Korean

?                 ??              ???            ???

cow        after one loses         barn             one fixes

“After losing a cow, one repairs the barn.”

My mom learned this proverb growing up in a small town in Seoul, South Korea.  When she was around 10 years old, she went to school and heard it first used by her teacher.  It was a rainy day and there was a hole in the roof.  It had been there for several weeks, but because it was nearing summer and the weather was so nice, no one thought much of it.  However, that day, the rain poured all day long and the entire classroom became flooded with water.  It wasn’t after the classroom was destroyed that incident that the principle called someone to fix the roof.  The teacher, therefore, responded with this proverb.

This Korean proverb is often used when an individual attempts to fix a situation only after something negative has occurred.  As the English translation of the proverb suggests, only after a person loses his cow does he repair the barn.   It remarks on people’s tendencies to do nothing to prevent negative situations but rather wait until they need to be repaired.  It’s almost as if people are hoping that things will never need to be fixed.  This is relevant to individuals now in the US.  It seems that we often follow the philosophy that nothing bad will happen to us.

We go through life believing that we are invincible and we refuse to stop our fast paced lives to make small improvements in our lives.  Therefore, I think the proverb is commenting on our people’s tendencies to ignore problems until a disaster occurs and trying to warn us to stop being lazy and to take action.

Annotation: Kim, Yong-Choi.  Proverbs, East and West. Weatherhill: 1991.

In this book, Kim Yong-Choi explains the proverb and gives examples of situations in which it can be used.