[Viewpoiont] Korea needs a ‘culture of discussion’

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[Viewpoiont] Korea needs a ‘culture of discussion’

The recent U.S. Congress vote on health-care reform has received much attention.

After being buffeted by the financial crisis, the United States managed to save face as the global superpower by showing off the power of democracy.

The contents of the health-care bill, of course, are important. Some are optimistic about it, while others are skeptical.

The optimists believe the bill represents the first step toward health care reform.

Skeptics say there is still a long way to go before that happens.

The bill’s passage was important enough, but what caught Koreans’ attention was how the legislative activities progressed.

Behind it were dialogues, communications, discussions, compromises, voting and acceptance of the outcome, and it was refreshing for Koreans to see the lively progress.

Koreans apparently are good at “special skills,” such as talking to themselves, fistfighting and ignoring established processes. It’s probably because everything in Korea moves extremely fast.

Korea proudly achieved economic growth and democratization in a very short amount of time, but the culture of discussion never quite made it.

That is the dark shadow of our modernization miracle.

Conflicts have accumulated in various sectors of our society. We face conflicts between classes, ideologies, regions, generations, genders and cultures.

Political conflicts such as the Sejong City issue actually fuel the inability of Koreans to talk things out. According to a June 2009 survey by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, Korean society’s conflict index was ranked fourth among the 27 members of the OECD, following Turkey, Poland and Slovakia.

There is always agreement and disagreement, optimism and pessimism, about any issue.

In Korea, however, conflicts worsen between the extremes of conservative and liberal, left and right. Justifications based on the black-and-white dichotomy often prevail.

Intellectuals are largely responsible for the culture of “bullying and browbeating” and we have no model on which to base a behavioral change.

That’s why expectations were high for the grand discussion between the conservatives and liberals which took place yesterday.

We hope to see that the event set forth a model by which to resolve conflicts.

Discussions began at 2 p.m. at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul.

The Presidential Committee on Social Integration, led by former Prime Minister Goh Kun; the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, headed by former Seoul National University Professor Kim Cae-one; and the JoongAng Ilbo jointly hosted the event.

The conservative civic group Citizens United for a Better Society and the liberal group Good Policy Forum as well as the Korea Development Institute all participated in the hot discussion.

It marked the first time that government officials, academics, a think tank, civic groups and the media united to hold a discussion. Democracy, market economy, inter-Korean and U.S.-South Korea relations, education, welfare, globalization and labor issues were covered.

The aim was that the rival presenters come up with an agreement, and we expect that the debaters did ultimately reach a conclusion at the end of each discussion.

It is important to see how far each side can concede, and where the line of concession will lie.

This was the first such attempt of its kind. In past practice, all conflicts were squelched after one side surrendered.

This event has raised expectations that in the future, Korea can develop a model in which each segment of society can resolve its differences with others and live harmoniously.

The theme of the discussions was “Harmony Korea, Remodel Korea.” Let’s imagine the future of a remodeled society in which harmony, mutual cooperation and communication have become part of everyday life.

*The writer is a deputy editor of culture and sports news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Bae Young-dae
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