[VIEWPOINT]Give-and-Take, Not a Battle to the EndKoreans traditionally value compromise and concession, but as the nation democratizes, more weight has been placed on individual rights. This brings consequent undesirable developments in every sector of Korean society, including politics and business, as people become willing to fight to the end to defend their interests.
Members of both the ruling and opposition parties speak highly of mutually beneficial politics, but in reality they are engaged in constant battle, determined never to yield an inch. The Korean people, who expect pending state affairs to be worked out smoothly through concession and cooperation, are fed up with the disappointing conduct of politicians.
Korea experienced severe conflict between labor and management during the financial and corporate sector restructuring. But neither side attempted to resolve the disputes through dialogue and cooperation. The labor-management conflicts, running to extremes, have deterred foreign investment in Korea, casting a dark shadow over the future of the Korean economy.
The evil of extreme selfishness, which results in endless struggles, is illustrated clearly at the scene of a trial. According to a recent survey, approximately 73 percent of all first trials of civil suits are settled by a judicial decision. Only 9 percent are settled through conciliation and compromise. By choosing the route of conciliation and compromise, conflicts end peacefully because both parties make concessions. But this is a path seldom taken in Korea, as the statistics testify.
In the case of Japan, 49 percent of civil suits brought to first trials are settled by a judicial decision; 32 percent are settled through dialogue and compromise, which is approximately 3.5 times the number in Korea. The disparity between Korea and Japan widens when the numbers of cases registering for civil mediation are compared. In Korea, only 4.5 percent of civil cases register for mediation services. In Japan, that proportion reaches 45.5 percent of all civil suits.
Legal proceedings, which are seen as the most efficient and reasonable way to resolve conflicts in the modern constitutional state, have their demerits. Settling conflicts by going to court is both expensive and time-consuming due to the rigidity of legal procedures. Moreover, going to court to resolve disputes has the potential to harm the relationship between the litigant parties irrevocably, because the winner and loser in each dispute is decided by the court and the judicial decision is forced upon them. The person who wins the case may smile, but the loser may sustain an injury difficult to heal. This point is particularly relevant to cases between family members. There is no true winner here because a miserable outcome for one party corrodes family harmony.
When a dispute between business partners ends up in court, both may suffer long-term economic consequences from the destruction of their working relationship that can occur in the highly charged court setting.
Compared to the rigid legal procedures required to settle a dispute in court, mediation procedures are simpler and much cheaper. Since mediation encourages compromise and concession from both parties it does not end with the destruction of the relationship between them. It can be concluded that trials should be a last resort in conflict resolution.
Conflict is unavoidable in our lives. Even if lawsuits are sometimes the only way left to resolve a civil dispute, lacking consideration for the perspective and interests of others and being bent on winning is not the best way to tackle a problem. Resolving conflicts through conciliation and compromise is a win-win game for all parties.
While we struggle to develop our nation and improve our own lots, we must bear in mind that conciliation is a rational and mature method of finding long-lasting, satisfying conclusions to conflicts for all concerned.
The writer is a lawyer at the Kim & Chang Law Firm.
by Han Sang-ho