[OUTLOOK]Shared values get short shrift

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[OUTLOOK]Shared values get short shrift

I thought it would be much more meaningful during this Lunar New Year holiday to have discussions on what traditions and values we should value and preserve ― that is, on keeping our society healthy ― instead of continuing to talk about reform, which had been the hot issue throughout last year.
It is not just out of the nostalgia for the past and our hometowns that we all feel on such holidays. Rather, it is because of the heightened sense of dehumanization caused by accelerated globalization and the arrival of an information-oriented society.
As in any other society, Korea has conflicts and friction among various groups or classes. However, what makes us most anxious is not the conflicts but the fact that the common values that hold up our community are faltering and losing their focus.
In this Lunar New Year, we are able to reaffirm the warmth of our family and neighborhood, but we can’t get rid of the feeling that the strong bond that had kept our country and society together has become thinner.
Fortunately, our people’s awareness of the need for environmental preservation has grown each year, and environmental civic movements have become more active. However, while great attention is given to the preservation of nature and the environment, we haven’t seen the same efforts to keep our society healthy, that is, preserving values, customs and traditions.
Keeping our society healthy is only possible when people have a historic awareness of the traditions and values that we are going to value and preserve, and when they make their own choices as citizens. Nevertheless, an instinctive impulse might be working within ourselves that forces us to take our historical past as an object of oblivion and criticism, because of the shameful memories of Japanese colonial rule and the pain that resulted from national division.
Yet our identity as social and human beings exists in the historical experiences that we have experienced and shared together, and we have an obligation to save and redefine our history.
Nowadays, in our discussions on the priorities of national policy, reform and pragmatism have often been presented as the two pillars of choice.
However, reform and pragmatism are both standards of strategic choice for change and development. In the course of such developments, if there is no interest in a social standard for the values and rules of our community that should be maintained, there will be a serious identity crisis regardless of whether it is a policy of reform or of pragmatism.
Only when a strategy for change and an awareness of the need to keep society healthy strike a creative balance can we work for true community development. In a time when the excitement of the age of ideology has not yet disappeared completely, the goals of freedom, equality, independence and unification can be stressed with absolute authority.
Also, the belief in the omnipotence of markets and high-speed development can get out of control. The task for our age is keeping people grounded in reality and connecting our traditions with the current social values and rules of our society.
Perhaps we are waiting for a new political movement that will lead us to preserve nature, environment and society at the same time.
Couldn’t a true conservative force, one that doesn’t indulge in protecting its vested interests, be born? The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom today focuses more on preserving British traditions than on protecting vested rights and pledges to contribute to the development of the nation and society.
I look forward to seeing the day when our country joins the rank of advanced countries, in terms of healthy preservation of our society, by establishing the identity of our national community and upgrading its status through recognition of our history and traditions.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve, our national soccer team played against Kuwait in the qualification rounds for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The surprising dream that came true in the 2002 World Cup, when Korea made the semifinals, still makes our hearts beat fast.
The wave of Korean fever, which grew strong all through last year, continues to get strong in the new year. It now spreads all over Asia, including Japan, and provides us a source of endless pride in our country.
However, we should not lie idle, feeling proud of ourselves, but ask ourselves cool-headedly a couple of questions: What are the Korean values that we cherish, feel proud of and wish to spread all throughout Asia and the world?
And how are we going to preserve and develop creatively such values and beauty in light of the trend of world history?

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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