[VIEWPOINT]Developing a ‘professional spirit’

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[VIEWPOINT]Developing a ‘professional spirit’

It may sound meager for a relatively young person like me, just over 40 years of age, to say that there are times when I become absent-minded because of the thought that what I do could be in vain, while spending another hectic day. There is a temptation that creeps into my mind at times like these. At such a moment, there is the temptation to do things roughly by cutting corners.
Frankly, I cannot confidently say that I have always overcome these temptations and done everything properly. And, of course, rationalization always follows such circumstances. The poor educational environment and social reality become grounds for atonement. I’m not a superman. Still I am occupied with lectures, preparation of a thesis, school and academic society works and the volunteer work that I do on top of that. I console myself by saying, “It’s understandable that I sometimes yield to temptation.”
But I feel a chill go down my spine when I see the twinkling eyes of my students change to a confused expression, or when I see a colleague’s awkward smile. I feel it when I realize that my shameless greed has made me get involved in so many things that I am incapable of coping with, and that they may be finally destroying the basis of my existence. I am always reminded of the words of my beloved former college professor at times like this. He said that to be a scholar you must have a “professional spirit.” The vital warning was that you cannot be perfect in everything you do, but if you want to have the professionalism that befits your position, you should get rid of greed and deception.
Recent issues in our society make me think that the professionalism my teacher taught me may not be something that just applies to me as an individual. One scientist who had been praised as a national hero ran into a problem of violating the ethical code during research and now even the genuineness of his research results is being questioned by a media outlet. Not a small number of people are flinching at the power of the masses that are on the verge of losing a hero. The truth will come out and should be clarified, but one thing that should not be overlooked is the greed and deception of the professionals who provided a cause for the controversy.
Even the average person with common sense can see that paying for ova or having staff researchers provide ova creates certain problems, but the professionals involved didn’t think it was a big deal compared to the great work they were doing. It is the harm of this greed and deception that started the problem.
Similar examples can be found in quite a number of other specialized fields, too. The problem of window dressing that is holding down our country’s economy has to do in part with the greed and deception of accountants. The problem of lawyers employing case brokers, or court sentences and decisions on arrest or bail that can only be explained as special favors in honor of former judges or public prosecutors, provide valid grounds for the suspicion that a twisted professionalism has worked in a sanctuary that is isolated from ordinary people.
There are suspicions that take away faith in professionals in a second: The suspicion that pharmacists and physicians received rebates from pharmaceutical companies, the suspicion that professors sold academic degrees or accepted bribes for irregular university enrollment, and that of plagiarism, the group egoism of civil servants and false reports of journalists. These can be due to the wrongdoings of some of them and can be attributed to structural reasons or common practices, but I think we cannot endlessly embrace the deception and imprudent greed that wanders around our society like a ghost.
In a plural and complex modern society, our community can develop in an organically well-rounded manner if professionals pierce blocked holes and straighten out bends with their insight and wisdom. The insight, vocation and courage of professionals provide the power of social development that cannot be replaced by the power of the non-specialist majority. That is why corresponding status and wages are guaranteed to professionals and why they get social respect.
The professional group of our society has expanded greatly with our society’s emergence as a high growth society. I think now is the time for us to contemplate whether the professionals have a sense of professionalism that is like life itself for them. The agony grows deeper as more and more professionals go around in groups thinking only about their own share rather than reflecting on their public status and responsibility. I think it is time for me to call my beloved teacher who taught me the meaning of professional spirit.

* The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.

by Kim Jong-cheol
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