[VIEWPOINT]Seeking Solomon’s wisdomA game of truth is currently shaking the entire country. Included in it is the fuss over clearing up historical wrongs, controversy over the authenticity of Professor Hwang Woo-suk’s research thesis and the enactment of a private school law that ostensibly aims to prevent corruption at private schools.
It is true that Korea has failed to firmly establish a tradition of honoring justice until now because Koreans are inclined to be drawn by sympathy and emotions. The lack of justice has worsened and caused side effects that now lie beneath the surface of our society as a whole. Therefore, people feel it refreshing to see an effort to reveal truth in the name of justice, at least at first. It is also true that our society has become more transparent thanks to such efforts. However, we are now going overboard with our intentions and methods of exposing the truth.
The point that is most worrisome is that, to establish social justice, we might destroy 90 to 95 percent of contributions to society under the pretext of exposing the 5 to 10 percent of mistakes. The loss of national energy due to such a move could be enormous. Korea’s domestic as well as international credibility could crash, and it could cause public destruction.
I am not saying that we should cover up all our mistakes unconditionally. It is important to expose the 5 to 10 percent of mistakes, but it is also necessary to have the wisdom of self-restraint considering peace and our national interest. The more important thing is enhancing the 90 to 95 percent of genuine public contributions. Only then can the country prosper and become a fair society.
According to foreign press reports, the modern history of the Republic of Korea is an amazing example of success. Even if there were 10 percent of mistakes included in that success, it is still rational to say that we were 90 percent successful. If the people who fought for democratization contributed around 10 percent to the development of history, it can be said that the remaining 90 percent was contributed mostly by conservatives. And we cannot deny that it is thanks to their contributions that President Roh Moo-hyun can meet with other world leaders with pride. Dr. Hwang’s research may contain 10 percent of mistakes, but 90 percent of it may contribute to our society. There may be less than 2 percent of wrongfulprivate education providers in Korea (35 private schools out of 1,874 are corrupt), but the other 98 percent are making positive contributions.
“The Holy One said, ‘If I created the world with the attribute of mercy alone, its sins would be too many; if with justice alone, how could the world be expected to endure?’” This is a passage from the Jewish Midrash. It means that there is no man that can stand up to the justice of God.
It is hard for an individual, family or society to survive when it is completely exposed to the outside world. Exposure makes things clean, but also erases warmth and peace. The biggest loss is that it snatches away the will of people who have contributed to society and the nation with passion and a sense of devotion. Most people with great achievements have made great contributions, but they are bound to have made mistakes also. On the other hand, those without great achievements make small contributions and make comparatively fewer mistakes.
Why is it difficult for Korea to create a society with a combination of justice and mercy? There may be many reasons but the biggest one is probably because families and schools only teach knowledge and not wisdom. Knowledge is learned from libraries and schools, but wisdom is learned from history, tradition, philosophy, ideology, religion and classical literature. Knowledge studies “what” something is, and wisdom studies “how” to react to things.
Education in wisdom teaches how to distinguish facts. Wise judgment is a teacher that leads us to a life of victory. Most Korean people at the moment have taken on the role of judges, deciding various issues on their own. This is proof that our level of awareness has improved. Then what are the qualifications to be a good and wise judge?
The Talmud presents two qualifications. First, you have to be humble at all times, conduct only good deeds, have precise distinguishing skills and have a clean personal history. In other words, you have to examine yourself first before you judge others. Second, you have to seek truth and peace at the same time. If you seek only truth, you lose peace. Therefore you should find a way to keep both truth and peace. This is called compromise.
Korean society is divided into two extremes and the level of confrontation has gone overboard. We need Solomon’s wisdom that can dispense justice together with peace. Not only our leaders, but the people need this wisdom too.
* The writer is a visiting professor at Myongji University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hyun Yong-su