[Outlook]Making nice

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[Outlook]Making nice

There is a Korean saying that goes, “If you speak nicely to others, they speak nicely back.” As so many people live in such a small country like Korea, conflicts are inevitable. Our ancestors must have realized that you should talk nicely and not offend other people so as to resolve confrontations smoothly.

But these days, many people in our society seem to think that if you speak rudely to someone, that person will answer meekly. For instance, after a fender-bender, a driver who is usually a nice, friendly person will often get out of his car and claim in a loud tone that the other driver is at fault. He believes that will intimidate the other driver and that if he acts tough, he at least won’t be falsely accused of something he didn’t do.

When people stage protests, they seem to believe that in order to draw attention from the public, get their opinions heard and avoid an excessive police crackdown, they need to block traffic and become violent, instead of expressing their opinions in a polite, quiet way.

Politicians in particular are notorious for being offensive. During election campaigns, the people try to understand that politicians are speaking badly about others because they are desperate to win. However, even after elections are over, they continue to use extreme language when debating every little matter. One only wonders how they can get together again and discuss state affairs after having exchanged such words.

These days even the media, which should provide rational criticism about this behavior, is sharply divided. Each media outlet uses aggressive language to criticize the party or people it doesn’t side with. Conventional media outlets are still less awful than Internet portals, where anonymous writers don’t hesitate to post their most vulgar thoughts.

Another Korean saying goes, “If you complain about someone, you become like the person you’re complaining about.” As in this expression, media outlets are not presenting themselves in the best light.

A sociologist said that the anonymity of the Internet can encourage aggressive tendencies in people, spreading hatred. But in our society, everybody seems to do their bit to spread hatred, whether online or off. An elementary school student, who obviously was not aware of what was going on, even said he would kill the president.

Such aggressive words, spat out without thinking, deepen the emotional divide between people who hold different opinions. As a result, this makes it more difficult to resolve conflicts in society. Another side effect is that as people pay attention to those who speak loudly, words quietly spoken about more important matters are drowned out.

The science and technology sector has fallen victim to this tendency. When government restructuring was discussed early this year, the claims of groups whose members raised loud voices were satisfied. However, many scientists believe that the science and technology field, a very important sector for the country’s future, was sacrificed because its members didn’t speak loudly.

All this proves that our society is not advanced yet. Government policies are decided and social conflicts are resolved depending on who shouts the loudest, not through rational debate.

Koreans behave the same way in international affairs, probably because they are accustomed to this pattern. For instance, whenever the Dokdo issue erupts, politicians make offensive remarks about Japan and propose extreme solutions which are unlikely to work in reality. Traditional media outlets and netizens play along, stage rallies and sometimes do things that run counter to common sense in the international community.

International issues are settled by exerting pressure and persuading others, not by shouting. Domestic actions and remarks are heard ’round the world in this era of globalization. Thus, extreme acts that can’t be understood in international society make it difficult to get an issue resolved. The world has become so small that a Korean netizen’s negative remark about the recent earthquake in China on a Korean Internet portal sparked anti-Korean sentiment in China. If similar cases happen inside our small country, they are immediately publicized, and immediately cause conflicts.

In a smaller world, our old saying about speaking nicely to others has even more significance. Different people have different opinions, and that will always create social conflict. However, there is no need to offend other people in the course of resolving these issues.

Whether left- or right-wing, we all have to live together. And we have to engage our neighboring countries, whether they have the same opinions as us or not.

*The writer is a professor of physics and the dean of the College of Natural Science at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Oh Se-jung
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