[Outlook]A welcomed change of heart

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[Outlook]A welcomed change of heart

Over the last few years, our society has witnessed a deepening of strife and growing conflict among individuals and groups that constitute it as the result of an indiscriminate dismantlement of power.
Several reasons can be found for this. While the president and other political leaders are the main culprits, none of us are free from blame for all have tried to take advantage of this social chaos to pursue our own self-centered interests.
Modern democracy is founded on the basis of acceptance of diverse members and diverse values. It is only natural that different opinions should exist in competition and, at times, conflict with one another. Such diversity of opinions is not only natural but beneficial for the progress of democracy.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency in our society to not only exclude and ignore values and opinions different from our own but to altogether deny their existence. This tendency has often led to incidents of blind witch-hunting by the media.
Our vicious attacks on our opponents have at many times escalated to dramatic conflicts that no one foresaw in the beginning.
The situation worsens when the accumulation of conflicts creates a schism among the people, a gap that leaves our people divided into “us” and “them.”
In the end, the channels of free and rational discussion disappear and only disappointment succeeded by anger and a sense of betrayal is left among the people.
Lack of discussion leads to further misunderstanding, and a vicious cycle is repeated. It is with a heavy heart that one imagines what could come next.
Recently, a number of civic groups have announced a return to innocence.
“Since the June movement in 1987, our civic movement has fallen into the error of seeing things in black and white. Our image today is that of a stubborn, bellicose group that lacks expertise but overflows in self-indulgence.” Thus reads a confession by one civic group. “We must first throw away our tendency to think that we are always right and that the others are always to be blamed.”
It is true that certain civic groups are anything but “civic” today. They’ve become powerful interest groups with vested powers catering to those in authority.
It is refreshing to hear that civic groups, which have often been criticized for turning “gray” and being “handmaids to power,” have finally seen the folly of their ways.
Some cynics may snicker saying that civic groups that had once been so eager to borrow the powers of the Roh Moo-hyun administration have turned their backs on it now that it is down on its luck.
There could indeed be an element of the survival instinct working in the recent turnabout of the civic groups, and such behavior is not quite exemplary.
Nevertheless, we should wait in patience and see if the civic groups, which had isolated themselves from the real people quite some time ago to join the ranks of the government and authority, will return to the public where they truly belong.
If anything, we should give them credit for finally seeing the light and trying to discard the way of self-indulgence mixed with bitter judgment of others.
A democratic society can go forward only when diverse opinions co-exist in workable, if not perfect, harmony. Such harmony is only possible when a transparent and objective system of rational conclusion is established and implemented.
In this sense, although coming belatedly, the recent introspection of the civic groups must be applauded.
In 1949, the Constitutional Congress of West Germany gathered in Schloss Herrenchiemsee near Munich to discuss the points of controversy in the new Basic Law.
The minutes of this congressional meeting hold many interesting anecdotes, but one particular passage gives food for thought.
It reads: “The others are as right as I am right and if I want others to listen to me, I should listen to them.”
We have some rough weather ahead of us, maybe rougher than any we’ve experienced in our modern history. Trite as it may sound, maybe we should heed the message above. It is time that we re-establish the basic rules of communication in our society. If we want to make this a society worth passing on to our descendants - if we want it to remain intact in the face of strife and conflict - then we should stop to think: Am I indeed always right?

*The writer is a professor of public law at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Hyung-sung
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