Slogging through

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Slogging through

Throughout history, reaching the conclusion of an important discussion has never been an easy job.

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), debates on plans for tax reform that started in the early morning wouldn’t end until sunset. In 1750, King Yeongjo, who could not stand endless debate, gave participants a new order.

The king demanded those who supported one reform plan to stand to the north and those opposed to stand to the south. All participants stood at the southern side. The king then ordered those who supported the other reform plan to stand at the northern side and those opposed at the southern side. Once again, except for around 10 of them, most of the participants stood at the southern side.

But for the ultimate in never-ending debate, look no further than the Mongol Empire (1206-1368). As the Mongol Empire was fairly tolerant of foreign cultures, debates on religious affairs were held quite often in its capital, Karakorum. Buddhists, Muslims and Christians could participate in the open forum and all were guaranteed the ability to talk freely. One thing was taboo, however: No one was supposed to make any remarks that could lead to a quarrel.

But then when the first round of discussions was over, they would drink alcohol while preparing for the second round. Throughout many rounds of discussions, however, it would be hard to persuade or convert the other side. So the debates went on until all participants got so drunk that they could no longer continue talking, much less talk reasonably.

Whether it was during the 18th-century Joseon Dynasty or in the 13th-century Mongol Empire, it was often hard to bring discussions to a close. Nevertheless, the fact that they tried their best to collect the opinions of others on important issues cannot be ignored.

This also applies to the final round of discussions on health care reform in the United States. This Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal is that both the Republicans and Democrats in the Congress gather together at the White House for half a day and listen fully to the other side’s opinion.

Skeptics say that the proposal is nothing but a political gesture and that it will be difficult to find common ground between the two sides.

But since the issue is big enough to divide the United States into two, some say that such a political gesture is necessary for the president to excuse a potential failure, allowing him to say that “the government has done all that it could do.”

After the first meeting of lawmakers to discuss the Sejong City issue, the differences that remained were railroad tracks that ran parallel. I think the lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party need to take a page out of the history books, or at least look to the efforts in Washington for inspiration.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Shin Ye-ri
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