[Viewpoint] A time for more sensitive leadership

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[Viewpoint] A time for more sensitive leadership

Hostile emotions and group thinking prevail in our society from time to time. One example came a few years ago. When two middle school girls named Hyo-soon and Mi-sun were hit by a U.S. military armored vehicle and died, we all fell into deep emotion instantly, as if we were being crushed to death by an overwhelming force. That hostile sentiment was extended to hostility toward the United States as a whole.

The repeal of a ban on U.S. beef imports also provoked a sentimental feeling, as if bad business owners were making us, the naive consumers, get sick. These group sentiments, which spread like an epidemic, were the driving force behind the anti-American candlelight vigils.

The surprising news that former President Roh Moo-hyun killed himself made hostile emotions surge in our society. The story of this man, who had nothing to begin with but overcame all obstacles to be elected president and fight against vested interests, and who then had no choice but to end his own life when he was harassed by the politicians who succeeded him after his retirement, spread resentful sentiments and emotions among the people.

Many who had to endure the difficulties of everyday life and fell into despair sometimes sympathized with the late President Roh, as if they were the victims themselves.

Sensitive young people were affected especially easily by these group sentiments.

Emotions refine our minds at times, but they often lead us to show extreme hostility, too. Instead of reflecting in a coolheaded manner on the significance of the death of the late President Roh, one-sided hostile emotions spread like wildfire, calling President Lee the assailant and calling on him to apologize, repent and even step down.

When something bad happens, people look for someone to blame and criticize to gain psychological consolation, and it happened as a group this time.

The hostile emotions of the crowd were so strong this time that they were not limited to the general public and civic activists.

This was seen in a series of declarations by university professors, intellectuals - people who ought to reflect rationally from their independent positions - who acted as a group to add fuel to the fires of this sentimental and emotional atmosphere.

Above all, the press played a leading role. They turned their backs on their mandate to calmly report the facts from as neutral a position as possible.

Each media outlet tried to take advantage of the grief of the people and find the public enemy they could hold responsible for this resentment.

Even the political community, which is responsible for keeping balance in our society, abandoned its duty and tried to stir the sentiments and emotions of the people.

Transitional periods like this one create favorable conditions for spreading sentiments and emotions far and wide.

The late stage of industrialization in particular makes people suffer from a vague sense of loneliness, isolation, instability and nervousness.

The wish to be free from materialism, in particular, increases the influence of such non-economic elements as social and cultural awareness. Under such circumstances, it is easy for group sentiments to come over us like a great fad and increase the temptation to pour out our rage against an assumed enemy to feel a sense of catharsis.

Today, we Korean people need something to depend on mentally. It is difficult to find relief in a social atmosphere where people suddenly get caught in self-pity or hostility against those with material benefits.

Only efforts that go beyond sentiments and emotions will be effective. This is why we need sensitive leadership.

President Lee Myung-bak has been far from a sensitive leader. His economic pragmatism worked for him when he was elected, and after his inauguration he put forth a CEO-type presidential theory and tried to win people’s minds by achieving tangible policy accomplishments.

This approach led to one failure after another, because it does not fit an age where group sentiments and hostile emotions overflow.

It is, of course, necessary to ask people to think rationally, but on the other hand the president and political leaders should be equipped with sensitivity to the current social atmosphere and emotional conflicts.

Now is the time to think hard about how to be a sensitive leader who can console, embrace and touch the emotions of the people.

*The writer is a professor of politics and diplomatic studies at Kyung Hee University.

by Lim Sung-ho
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