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At creative KU, character is a matter of fundamental personal co...
  • Writer : Communications Team
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  • Date : 2019-12-13

Vision Interview
At creative KU, character is a matter of fundamental personal competencies
– Peck Cho, distinguished professor


Nowadays, cooperation and collective intelligence have become important, and the meaning of success has changed. More and more people recognize the fact that true success can be obtained not by competing against each other but by cooperating to achieve a higher goal together. Recently, KU appointed Peck Cho, who has been emphasizing that “character is not constituted by personality but by competence,” as a distinguished professor at the Institute for General Education. Cho, who sees character as made up of socio-emotional capacities, will take up the role of special consultant on educational innovation in order to foster talented individuals at Creative KU, and will participate in the development of various extracurricular programs aimed at cultivating these personal facets. We met with Professor Peck Cho to glean his thoughts on character.

The Centrality of Character Development in the 4th Industrial Revolution

“One of the core elements of the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution is that artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly eliminate job opportunities across society. In the past, there was concern only for blue-collar jobs in this context, but now even professional occupations are being threatened. Today’s university students can prosper only if they have abilities that AI cannot displace. I believe the solution is collective intelligence among people, which is a trait which Microsoft, Apple, and Google harnessed in order to become so successful.”

He explains that there are two types of process that form collective intelligence, namely brainstorming and 'heart-storming'. “Brainstorming involves sharing thoughts and fostering more creative ideas. Collective intelligence can have a synergy effect when people with different values, creeds, and goals come together. Naturally, there will be conflicts. For various people to work well together, they must have the ability to recognize and accommodate their differences. This is where what I call heart-storming plays a crucial role. It is a foundation of character. The essential skill necessary for the highest level of creativity is the capacity to manage relationships, that is, the ability to function productively with one another.”

In a world of AI in which cutting-edge technology and machines have become commonplace, the concept of ‘character’ is resonant of the analog world, and feels obsolete in the digital helter skelter. Professor Cho states that, “We mistakenly believe that if someone doesn’t have the ability to succeed, they must at least display good character. I heard this notion soon after I returned to Korea, and it was quite shocking. Does it mean that ability is the most important factor necessary to succeed in society, and if you don’t have it, character is the second best trait you must have in order to survive? But good character does not entail one merely enduring hardships by accepting one's situation and trying to please others.” He is firm in his belief that “character will be an essential element in the future, when there will be a premium on cooperation.”

Education Changes with the Times
Character Development is the Roadmap to Fruitful Self-Realization

“Korea made tremendous progress in just one generation after the Korean War,” says Professor Cho. “This was indeed a miracle. Underlying this miracle was the consensus that education for the next generation should be emphasized, and the realization of the centrality of parents’ dedication to educating their children.” Professor Cho continues that people had the belief that education could make a better future and never gave up on it under any circumstances, which led to the miracle of today's Korea.

“In the past, 3W (whenever, wherever, whoever) education was dominant, which involved teaching people on an ad hoc basis, depending on where and when they happened to be aggregated together. But after the war, numerous schools were built and 3S (same time, same place, same age) education began, involving the more systematic concentration of education. Now, Korea is implementing 3A (anytime, anywhere, anyone) education. With the development of information and communication technology, we have created an environment in which anyone can be educated at any time and in any place, without any restrictions. By benefiting from this type of education, Korean students are currently demonstrating world-class achievements.” However, he continues that the challenges we face in our lives have also changed as we have moved on a trajectory from material to mental poverty, and now to spiritual poverty. Thus, naturally, spiritual wellbeing and healing is becoming more important as material needs such as food, clothing and shelter have been increasingly met.

“What comes after healing? Isn’t it comfort? Comfort is ultimately happiness. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needsself-actualization is at the very top of the pyramid. After self-actualization, he argued that self-transcendence and morality take shape. That is, at the top of the hierarchy, character resides.” Professor Cho says that character is ultimately linked to happiness, and he emphasizes that happiness cannot be attained by oneself, and can only be obtained by transcending oneself.

“Self-actualization means holding fast to a vision of the future and realizing one's dreams. The drive to self-actualization should not be focused simply on subsisting independently, but should instead have at its core self-transcendence, which aims for something larger and more exalted than oneself. Self-transcendence involves the quest to discover the value of life.”

Three Types of Crucial Character Development
Self-attunement, relationship attunement, public interest attunement

As aforementioned, the value of education has changed with the transformation of society. In these times, Professor Cho argues that there are three abilities that young people in their 20s should prioritise. “Just as we have to water and fertilize the soil for flowers to blossom, character development requires cultivation. For the flower called 'character' to blossom, we need to nourish its soil and roots. In this case, nourishment comes in the form of three 'attunements'.” By this, Professor Cho is referring to self-attunement, relationship attunement, and public interest attunement.

“The importance of these three requirements is not the result of my own insight. Harvard University defines them as the characteristics that people seek to attain. The first, self-attunement, denotes the capacity of people to 'tune into' their innermost selves and manage their stress. When one is undergoing too much stress, one cannot be creative, so managing stress is crucial to building a foundation for creativity. Unfortunately, however, our students have never been educated in the ways to release or overcome stress.” 


Professor Cho feels especially sorry for stressed adolescents in Korea who turn to games, SNS, and smartphone applications to relieve their tension instead of properly managing stress through exercise or communal leisure activities.

“The second trait is relationship attunement, and regarding it, Harvard asks the question as to whether an individual is someone people want to be with. Simply put, it is important to identify whether you can be part of a process that leads to collective intelligence; that is, rather than merely being with others, can you create synergy when you are together with others.” He is concerned about the recent increase of loners in what has been characterized as a 'Me Generation' in our society, believing that if no one teaches people the skills enabling them to be together with others in a healthy, productive way, and they do most things by themselves, they tend to miss the opportunity to develop their capacity for relationship attunement.

“Lastly, in terms of public interest attunement Harvard poses the question as to whether an individual makes positive contributions to their community and to society. Making a contribution does not necessarily mean commitment and volunteering, but simply the ways in which one can lead a useful life which brings benefits to one's community. However, there is an expression to the effect that people should just work for their own benefit, using all the resources at their disposal. This sentiment captures the essence of a selfish life rather than a life led in the service of all.”

He explains that public interest attunement, which entails being attuned to the need to work in the public interest, is a competency that is essential in the era of collective intelligence. The key is for interested parties to identify win-win solutions through which everyone benefits. “Public interest attunement does not mean altruism or the sacrifice of one's own desires for others. It is the ability to realize that benefitting the community eventually benefits oneself. That is, public interest attunement entails making calculations involving goals that are beyond one’s own immediate objectives; it is the ability to recognize that such calculations may benefit oneself in the long run, even they they may seem to entail a net loss for the individual in real time.”

In light of the three attunements, it is clear that character is not a vague moral concept. It can only be attained through mastering a range of personal and social competencies.

“That is why I assert that character is fundamentally a matter of personal competency. We generally refer to competency in terms of the mastery of something after a person works at it over a period of time. But its deeper meaning is in its relationship to the mastery of character, which is not innate to one's personality.”

“The Six Acts” as Specific Ways to Put the Three Attunements into Practice

The Six Acts, which Professor Cho has proposed as the components of a practical strategy for character development, are specific ways to put the three attunements into practice. The Six Acts are aimed at achieving six key traits, namely autonomy, rationality, positivity, emotional regulation coaching, decisiveness, and maturity. Knowing oneself, seeing a situation objectively, and choosing one’s own responses to external stimuli are the characteristics of ‘autonomy,’ which is related to self-attunement. ‘Rationality,’ which is the capacity to balance emotion and reason, is also an essential trait necessary for self-attunement.

In terms of relationship attunement, Professor Cho explains what is required in his view. “I have said that communication is important to the development of good relationships with one another. We can communicate well and attune ourselves well to relationships when we can share our positive energy and our deepest feelings with others. Without ‘positivity,’ we distort or doubt others’ intentions even when they speak sincerely. ‘Emotional regulation coaching ’ is related to how one can share one’s deepest, most complex feelings, which is related to relationship attunement.”

Public interest attunement is related to ‘decisiveness,’ which entails being ambitious and initiating innovation, and ‘maturity’, or the attribute of being an adult, which entails contributing to the happiness of others and demonstrating leadership in the process of sharing and giving.

“What is the difference between an adult and a child? A child tries to take something that he or she wants, and an adult tries to give that thing to the child. That is, an adult is someone who has the capacity to give rather than to take. It is character development that can help a child grow into an adult.”

When Universities Change, so too does Education in Korea

Professor Cho reminds us that KU Library was established through the contributions of all the people of Korea, and says that the character-related values of the three attunements are embedded in KU's values of liberty, justice, and truth.

“I hope that the marvelous traditions of KU do not become encrusted in history, but are reflected in every students’ daily life. KU students are too talented to use their innate intelligence solely for their own ends. We need to think seriously about how to lead lives which make a contribution, rather than selfish lives. I hope students do not learn the wrong lessons from the older generation, many of whom only try to secure their narrow interests by clinging to established networks and parochial or familial concerns; I hope students will contemplate how to live lives which are replete with a larger meaning.”

Lastly, Professor Cho says that the prospects for Korean education are bright as long as universities realize the importance of character development once again, and take on the challenge of devising new forms of education to foster it.

“Knowledge can be gained at any time through books and the Internet, but wisdom can only be infused from person to person. Those who have become adults should first demonstrate their maturity or adulthood. To all KU students, be the best possible mentors, who can demonstrate the true meaning of being an adult. Become harbingers of hope who can benefit the world through the vaulting dreams in your hearts.”

*Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's theory of motivation asserts that human needs are hierarchically organized, and that fulfilling lower-level needs is a condition for the expression of higher-level needs. Maslow divides human needs into five levels.

[Professor Peck Cho]
Professor Cho majored in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin; earned master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University; and was a professor and ombudsman for 20 years at the Michigan Institute of Technology. Currently, he is working towards the fulfillment of his philosophy of personhood by running the HD Institute of Happiness in Korea with his wife, the psychologist Dr. Sung Ae Choi.


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