[OUTLOOK]Best wishes for Korea’s 2006I am afraid of paying visits to people to exchange New Year’s greetings because such a visit can easily end up as a disaster. If politics is ever discussed while exchanging best wishes for the New Year, our voices become raised and our faces change color by the time we part.
It is no news that chaotic and corrupt politics and political culture damage the glorious economic and social achievements of Korea. The public cannot possibly comprehend why the president and the governing party are in such disagreement, why the major opposition party has to hold a rally outside of the National Assembly over the revision of the private school law in this cold winter and why the media and politicians are so sensitive about the movements of potential runners for a presidential election that is two years away.
Citizens have now become accustomed to living without any expectations of politicians. Regrettably, however, the habitual struggles of the politicians are dividing even the public into two. From the process of clarifying recent history to the revision of the private school law, there could be a variety of moderate solutions for each pending issue, instead of just extreme support or opposition. However, even the public has fallen into the trap of a dichotomy between assent and opposition in the course of handling pending issues.
Media outlets are playing a major role in accelerating the spread of this dichotomy. Lately, I feel that society has been divided into two groups of people, namely those who read the print media and those who rely on online information. The two groups obtain different information and, therefore, think and behave differently. While this could be a generational problem, it is not too worrisome for it is not just a trouble Korea is going through. However, what frustrates me most is that these two groups of people with different ideas have grown so emotionally hostile to each other that they are not willing to agree even on objective facts.
I believe that intellectuals and opinion leaders are leading this uncomfortable social atmosphere. Of course, it might not be so easy to reach a complete consensus on objective truth in a divided society that has to live beside the unpredictable North Korea. However, even considering the North Korean factor, the arbitrary interpretation of facts by opinion leaders is sometimes too absurd and shocking.
In order to resolve this social friction, the public has to make an effort. They must talk more frankly and be more willing to communicate. In this process, we need to develop the communication skill of “active listening,” as emphasized in the West, to resolve discord and teach tolerance and peace. Moreover, we need the training to acknowledge and embrace at least objective facts. From the revision of the Private School Law to the National Security Law, individuals and political parties can have different opinions on sensitive matters. However, the political differences on these issues do not always correspond to the divide between the conservatives and the progressives, or pro-Roh Moo-hyun and anti-Roh Moo-hyun groups.
If we resolve the difference in opinion over each issue through procedural democracy, there is no reason for the Republic of Korea to get so heated up or for its citizens to be so anxious. Korea has barely gotten out of formal democracy and is taking steps to real democracy. Even in the west, the attainment of democracy was possible after a long time and many trials. Now, we have to acknowledge the diversity and pluralism of democracy and patiently protect the importance of the process.
In 2006, I hope Korea’s citizens can reduce their exhausting struggles and create a society of patience, communication, and agreement.
* The writer is a professor of history at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chung Hyun-back