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[Opinion] It`s Not Just `Their Heaven`

Posted November. 21, 2001 09:10,   


The mineral spring in the mountain behind our house has two streams. One stream is thick while the other is thin. People who stand in line waiting to get the water always go for the thicker stream. They feel that the stream is better because it fills the water bottle more quickly. In contrast, the smaller stream can be frustrating. Yet, it doesn`t have to be when you look at it from a different perspective. Although it takes longer than the other stream, it fills the water bottle all the same if you wait for it. Even though my stream may be thinner, if I wait with patience and try my best, the world becomes that much more brighter. Every time I come to the spring, I recall Plato`s admonition to treat similarly those who are similar and those who are different accordingly.

It seems that democracy was in full blossom in the city of Athens in ancient Greece beyond people`s imaginations because the idea that all people are equal was widely accepted. Yet, as if that equality reached an extreme, Plato criticized that the sons and daughters are acting like parents, and children are trying to act like adults. He railed against this and said that sooner or later, people will even put animals on equal footing with human beings. Instead, Plato insisted not on arithmetic equality but on a proportional equality where human beings are treated according to their value.

He has a point. Everyone is born different and people lead various lives. Everyone cannot be treated in the same cookie-cutter way. The `downward equalization` that we are presently witnessing in society is not desirable. We must help those who have talent and skill to develop and exercise their abilities. That is the only way that society will progress.

In order, however, to treat `those who are different accordingly`, there must be two conditions.

First, there must be equal opportunity for fair competition. If everyone begins at the same starting point and should their own strengths and talents create differences between people, this kind of difference can be accepted. During the Koryo dynasty, Choi Choong Hun`s manservant Man Jeok exclaimed, "There is no special seed of royalty." If equal opportunity is not guaranteed, the majority of people cannot but despair.

The most important thing is for socially important people and not so important people to have the opportunity to live make their own lives as they wish. We only live once and everyone must be take responsibility for one`s own life. There is no difference between protagonists and extras in life.

There is a lot of complaining today about `dispersed inequality`. In the past, people could easily achieve success and secure a good name if they were born in a good family. Inequality, therefore, proliferated. In recent times, however, this kind of structure became weakened and even poorer people could rise from the ashes through their own effort. Although inequality exists, it has largely been dissolved.

When we look at the state of our society now, however, we can frequently see countercurrents that seek to block this flow of things. Students from poor families entering Seoul National University have become a thing of the past. Parents` earnest (or `excessive`) efforts based on their financial status have become the ticket to top-ranking universities. People who can get into top universities can get a good job and a suitable spouse. In our society, one`s life is determined by one`s parents. It feels like a social caste system is resurrecting itself.

To insist on `treat similarly those who are similar, those who are different accordingly` in this situation is meaningless. It may be used to justify the reinstatement of the stratified social class rule ideology. The words, "There is no special seed of royalty.", is more persuasive.

The world is not the property of the top 5 percent who passed their exams. Even if the streams are thinner than others, they are still valuable forms of life. The standards set by socially important people are usually worthless and narrow-minded. With one life to live, why would anyone want to force oneself to fit that mold?

Everyone has the right to live with dignity and pride. The root meaning of the word democracy means `to make things better for the majority`. What kind of an age are we living in now?