Developing Higher Social IntelligenceA Society of High Social Intelligence Sees Through Deceptions
“Mom, it’s the problems in the political structure that make it hard for politicians in our country to be honest, isn’t it?” asked my oldest, a seventh-grader, after hearing the news of our spy agency’s diversion of funds to politicians. I was more impressed with the child for not showing an indiscriminate distrust of politics, as adults do, than because of the big words he used.
In his book “Trust,” Francis Fukuyama grouped the United States and Japan as high-trust societies and Korea as a low-trust society. But after comparing the levels of trust in the United States, Japan, and Korea in academic studies and experiments, I found problems with Mr. Fukuyama’s claims.
In my experiments, which measured the general trust levels in cooperating with a third party, Koreans showed high levels of trust compared to the people of the two other counties, at least in their behavior. Koreans are so trusting that they cannot abandon faith and cling to hope for hanges in politicians, despite their repeated deceptions and unfulfilled promises.
Unlike the high levels of trust they showed in my experiments, Koreans proved to be less trusting than Japanese and Americans in survey research on their attitudes. I am beginning to think that Koreans show low levels of trust in their attitudes but high levels of trust in their behavior because of low social intelligence – the ability to read the intentions of others and to see through deceptions, not because of a culturally weak infrastructure for building trust.
Toshio Yamagishi, noted for his research on trust, used that definition of social intelligence. He claims that people of high social intelligence maintain high levels of trust in others because they are seldom betrayed by the people they trust; they choose trustworthy persons to place their faith in.
In contrast, people of low social intelligence are gullible, which raises the likelihood of being cheated and which in turn causes them to distrust others.
Koreans are strongly influenced by one or two separate instances in forming their perception of the whole. They denounce entire civic groups when one or two of the members commit unethical acts. They distrust the entire political sector when a political corruption scandal is uncovered. This tendency points to Korean society’s low social intelligence.
We have to avoid distrusting and scorning the political sector as
a whole because these attitudes do great harm to democracy.
A nation can avert at least a comprehensive crisis in trust if its people are capable of distinguishing serious mistakes from minor ones and essential issues from the superfluous. We will be able to maintain a high-trust society, of course, regardless of the level of social intelligence if politicians always do their jobs well. But even if the political sector disappoints the public, unilateral distrust of politicians can be kept at bay if the people have high social intelligence.
The essence of the spy agency’s misappropriation of funds lies in verifying whether it really diverted money to finance the then-ruling party’s election campaign and in finding the people accountable for the misuse. An even more fundamental issue is why corrupt use of political funds continues to plague us.
Frankly speaking, how many politicians would be free from criticism about their political funds? Leaving the main source of scandal under a cover of protection, the prosecution leaks an unconfirmed list of politicians who allegedly received funds from the spy agency and picks and chooses among them for investigations.
The biased approach of investigations varnishes the essence of the incident. A people of high social intelligence should never tolerate the prosecution’s attempts to gloss over the incident by summoning and investigating a few targeted lawmakers without making any attempts to remove the causes of political corruption.
At every general election, a considerable number of parliamentary representatives are replaced but this fails to improve the political situation.
Could it be because the fundamental problems in a contradictory structure are left in place while a few parliamentary members are made scapegoats? Could it be because experienced representatives who act on their convictions and stand up against their bosses are ousted, leaving only first-term representatives, lacking in experience and expertise, cowering before their bosses?
As we watch the endless political bickering in the nation, we cannot help feeling both the ruling party and the opposition are going too far, and so is the press, which published the alleged list of wrongdoers saying it trusted the public’s ability to judge it correctly.
In times of such confusion, we can only rely on the people’s high social intelligence to make proper judgments. But when I logged onto the Internet home pages of lawmakers, I found public criticism
heavily concentrated on reform-minded politicians on whom the
public had pinned relatively high hopes. This vicious cycle of public distrust of politicians is not going to be severed easily.
My only hope is that we develop a society of high social intelligence by the time my oldest child becomes an adult member of our society.
The writer is a professor of political science at Ewha Womans University.
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