Nine days to go! Now that the movers have come and gone and we are living out of suitcases and sleeping on air mattresses, the impending move is becoming much more real and I am closer to making my peace with it.
One of the things I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit, as I prepare to return to the land of individualism, is the Korean emphasis on social harmony. Having been born in a country that is defined by it’s emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, this has been quite an eye-opening experience.
Korean culture is changing rapidly, so who knows what it might look like in 25 years? For now, though, it is still very rooted in Confucian principles, the entire goal of which is social harmony. Ideally this means that every interaction and choice is framed within the question: what will create the most harmonious outcome?
While the benefits of this are many, there are also some drawbacks. There is a great deal of emphasis on the common good, which benefits everyone immensely. The flip side is, there isn’t much space for individual expression or carving out a new way. It can be done, but with a great deal of resistance.
But I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of the way Korean society organizes itself. I can only speak to the way it has impacted me and the way I see the world and operate in it. And while before coming here I considered myself as someone who made an effort to be aware of the common good and to always operate from this ethical point of view, existing in a society where it is practiced almost without exception, I have become aware of how much room there is for improvement.
For me, the word harmony is really key. While conflict should not always be avoided, it sometimes can and should be. I recently saw somewhere the phrase, “You don’t have to attend every argument to which you are invited.” I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to be argumentative and confrontational, when perhaps this isn’t necessary or helpful. It’s been easy to justify this by saying I’m just expressing myself, or standing up for myself, or being who I am. Notice the theme? Me, me, me, I, I, I, myself, myself, myself.
Of course, the answer never lies in one or the other, but a balance of both. Choosing harmony and peace whenever possible and knowing when we need to assert ourselves and stand our ground; this is a tricky balance. One I’m working towards, bit by bit.