[OUTLOOK]A 'gentle society' should be goalThe World Cup has come to an end. It truly was a well-contested, well-united and well-coordinated event. Everyone is saying that we should hitch this World Cup fever to reunite the people's power for the progress of the country. However, before any progress can be made, there is something we need to do and that is to set up a dream that everyone can share in and work toward.
About 40 years ago, our dream had been to become a "well-fed society." That dream had been something that everyone could agree to and that is how we could gather our powers to make it come true. As a consequence, we escaped material poverty for the first time in our 5,000 year history. Since then, our dream of material wealth has more or less been completed. What we need now is a vision and perhaps a goal for the stage that follows.
What is the next stage? Even after returning home from an advanced country, one still gets surprised by observing the abundance of material goods in Korea. However, looking closer, one is also surprised at the empty harshness and the lack of leisure everywhere. Here we are, living in material abundance that we couldn't have dreamed about in the past and yet we are still being chased by the miserable realities of life. Why?
The reason is because we are not a "gentle" society. To put it in a nutshell, the difference between an advanced society and ours is that an advanced society is a gentle one and ours is not. Only a gentle society can offer a life of true leisure and spiritual comfort to its members.
The term "developed country" in its common sense could never stand for our dream. That term refers to a state or a rank of life but not to the actual living of life. That is why our dream should be a "gentle society" and not a "developed country."
What makes a society a gentle one? Human society is made all the more gentle when it is left at the mercy of impassive regulations rather than humans themselves. Sound ironic? Not so. A society where humans can decide who gets the bigger piece of bread, or who doesn't get any bread at all, could never become a gentle one. The last thing you can afford to be when that happens is gentle -- especially if you are on the receiving end.
The minute society decides a rational and acceptable system of distributing bread, such as a first-come-first-served basis, everyone relaxes his ungentle fingers from whatever he is clinging to -- to some extent. Thus, society turns gentler when systems and not humans are regulating every part of it.
However, just having any system is not enough. We need systems that are "alive" and reflexive to the market. The market is what guarantees freedom to everyone. You can do anything in the market, provided you don't harm the others. A healthy and vigorous market makes sure that the bread comes rolling in. It also gives a wider spectrum of choice for people.
Ration lines once threatened the existence of markets. How boring and how reeking of miserable poverty do "ration lines" sound today?
The fundamental problems that we are seeing in our education, medical and political systems were brought by the fact that we had once chosen these "ration lines" over the market.
Even this is not enough to make a gentle society. Prejudice of any kind against any people should disappear altogether. What is prejudice? It is determining a person's worth not by what's inside but what's visible outside. Men and women, black people and white, Koreans and foreigners, Jeolla residents and Gyeongsang residents, these are all categorizations according to what's outside.
A society that discriminated against people according to such standards of external appearances could never become gentle. We humans could never accept being discriminated against for our outer appearances, no matter how we are being repressed. Only when humans are judged by their fundamental elements, that is, their ability and character, would they accept and would society become gentle.
Finally, for a society to truly become gentle, it must have a culture that's home to its people. A culture that is home to the people would make the people love it all the more while it flourishes and a flourishing culture would produce gentler people.
A society thus turned gentle would bring leisure and the power to choose to the people. In this way, people would not have to harry themselves. Naturally, people would begin to feel pride and confidence, as human beings and as citizens.
A gentle society brings the power to choose and pride to the people. How about we all agree that we should set this "gentle society" as our next-stage dream for our society?
The writer is the dean of the graduate school of business administration at Sejong University.
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