[Viewpoint] Need to return to a sense of ‘us’

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[Viewpoint] Need to return to a sense of ‘us’

Liberation Day, which fell last Saturday, is unlike any other national holiday because it represents a time when we took back our country and established the Republic of Korea. It is common for major changes in government policies to be announced on that day. But this time, many policies for political reform and housing changes for low-income earners were proclaimed.

Listening to the president’s celebratory speech on Saturday, I thought once again about what we so desperately need these days. It’s simple: the need for a sense of “us,” of who we are as a nation and a people.

Our nation was full of this feeling 64 years ago, but now it is something that we lack. Looking at the Ssangyong Motor strikes, one wonders whether certain workers feel that the company is “ours.” Looking at fights at the National Assembly, one doubts that legislators feel that it is “our National Assembly” at all.

Once on TV I watched a practice of Manchester United, the football club that Park Ji-sung belongs to. They were divided into two teams and wore different-colored shirts. Although they are members of the same overall team, when they practice, they pretend they are true competitors. They do this routinely so that they can play better during real matches.

Can our labor unions do the same? A labor union exists to enhance its company. A company makes profits to maximize wages for its employees, and employees give their best labor and skills to produce the best possible goods. Only such a company can survive competition inside and outside the country. Labor and management may wear different-colored vests, but they should be able to negotiate to boost their company’s capability.

This notion applies to the country as well. If rightists and leftists share the same goal of increasing the country’s capacity, they can avoid the brutal fights that they have now. Our politics have become a competition between enemies, not between colleagues.

When we were first liberated, we were full of a sense of “us.” Why has the feeling died out so quickly?

One reason is that our country had ideological confrontations from the start. Those confrontations led us to abandon the idea that we were colleagues and encouraged us to feel that others were our enemy.

I do not mean to pass judgment on leftist or rightist ideology. Both are based on humanism. But as leftists pursued power, they used individuals’ resentment against society as their driving force and ended up destroying and splitting the community.

Rightists also share grave responsibility for the same result. They were indifferent of the causes for the resentment. While looking down upon a person who was starving and stole a piece of bread, they regarded it only natural that they enjoyed privileges and comforts that their station in life afforded them. They closed their eyes to the fact that privileges that they unfairly enjoyed would in the end destroy the entire community.

Resentment runs deep in our society. In this atmosphere, it will be difficult for any policy to take root. As a consequence, political reform is very difficult. Many worry about polarization. They say a river flows when its source is full of water. But if the river is blocked somewhere in the middle, the flow of water stops.

That is why the number of poor people is increasing in urban areas even though the economy is getting better. Such blockage gives rise to more resentment in society.

What we need most now is a sense of “us.” We need to share the sense that it must go well for our team. When it works for the team, it will work for me, as well.

We need to properly educate our children. Education should not divide haves and have-nots. The goal of education must be to teach our children that all of us belong to the same team. Those with special talent must be encouraged to move ahead as quickly as they can, while those left behind must be taken care of under our educational system.

We should not let politicians, whether progressives or conservatives, encourage and misuse animosity. They encourage animosity in people just for one purpose - their own interests. We should be aware of a politician who tries to encourage resentment.

A sense of “us” begins with fair treatment. All must be given equal opportunities. A door must be open to anyone who has what it takes. Only when the selection procedure is fair will we have a collegial sense.

In other words, society must be fair and transparent and give equal opportunities to all. Politicians alone cannot accomplish this. Improving policies or institutions is not sufficient, either. Since it is related to our attitude, perception and values, this sense of “us” should also exist in educational, cultural and religious fields.

We need to go back to the “us” that we used to be 64 years ago.

I hope that the joy and sense of “us” that we felt back then will be felt in our workplaces, spread across the entire country and across the border to the North.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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