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[Opinion] The Urgent Need for Leadership for Integration

[Opinion] The Urgent Need for Leadership for Integration

Posted September. 21, 2001 08:41,   


The recent conflicts revolving around North-South relations have not only expanded to political schism, but have caused serious confusion within our society. It is as if the gunpowder of social schism and conflict that have long been concealed has exploded all at once. The majority of the people are worried and even fearful about this schism. With the world economy at its low, and the Korean economy in a state of complete uncertainty, it is truly vexing to see the whole society in a state of confusion due to schism and conflict.

The differentiation of social function and structure is bound to occur as society develops. As the nature of works become complicated, many organizations emerge to perform these tasks. Such social differentiation can lead to a further development of the society if well managed, but it can also lead to the unfortunate dissolution of the society when dealt with in an incorrect way. Our situation nowadays belongs to the latter case. Social differentiation has occurred in many areas, but because we were not able to react aptly, we are on the verge of having to experience the pain of schism instead of the joy of development.

The way to manage social differentiation is to purse and achieve social integration. This is to say that differentiation and integration must go together. Social integration must occur at three levels. The first task of social integration is to properly regulate the activities of the manifold differentiated subunits whose activities and functions are different, manage wisely competitions that arise from resources, and thus embrace organizations that are interdependent yet separate. The differentiated organizations constitute a cultural portion.

When these cultural portions express themselves, society would fall into a state of deep confusion because of the resulting confusion of ideas and values. Therefore the second task of social integration is to achieve symbolic unification. It must be able to obtain an agreement of ideas and values. Owing to the imbalance of power among differentiated subunits, there arises class conflicts between labor and management, city and agricultural region, the center and province, and the upper-class and lower-class. The political bringing together of such conflict groups with different understandings is the third task of social integration.

The current conflict and schism our country is experiencing stem from our utter failure to effect social integration at these three levels. Then who could carry out the difficult task of social integration? In a normal country, it would be the religious and political sectors that perform such integration.

However, because these two sectors are what are causing the most schism in our society, they will not work. Our last expectation, out of necessity, falls on leadership and system. When leadership is properly established, the system will function properly, and only when the system operates effectively can leadership be exercised without restraint.

First, in order to embrace and integrate a divided society, distorted values and ideas, and classes full of hostility, leadership and system must be open and flexible. If communication is difficult, and everything is inflexible, then the system will easily suffer from arteriosclerosis, and leadership that is confined within such system will lose its vividness as a result of blocked information and a hardening of consciousness. And in order for the system to function properly, we are in need of people who know how to use people at the right place and the right time according to certain criteria. The best way to social integration, however, lies on what the people desperately long for but find difficult to obtain -- the decision of the leadership.

In other words, the only alternative is for the elites who control leadership and system to abandon corporate self-interests and display `public benefit mentality` through self-sacrifices for the sake of promoting national interests and the welfare of the people. Although this sounds like a commonplace prescription, it is nevertheless the true solution.

In today`s critical situation which has led to a `total crisis` (this might be a familiar expression) along with economic hardships and political bewilderment, the way to integrate and restore a society that has been shredded into thousands of pieces, comparable to the grains of sand, is the courageous decision that is committed to the interests and welfare of the public.

Kim Kyung-Dong (Professor of Sociology, Seoul National University)