Another Person's Room

Lately, the Korean has been self-studying some Korean law as a hobby. He started with civil law (as opposed to criminal or constitutional law) because he figured it will be the most relevant to his practice. The progress is quite slow, and not just because the Korean is lazy and/or lacking for time. As the Korean explained previously, Korean law is under the Civil Law system, while American law is a typical Common Law system. As an American lawyer, the Korean is finding Korean law to be really, really different. The concepts that the Korean expects to exist just are not there. (For the lawyers and law student -- for example, agency is not a separate body of law, but is interspersed throughout the civil law.)

 Introduction to Civil Law by Yang Chang-Su
It's a bitch of a book.

But recently, the Korean had a breakthrough that made the study a lot more intuitive. He realized that both Korean law and American law are trying to deal with the same circumstances. In a commercial transaction, people often do not pay back what they borrowed. That is the same no matter where the transaction happens. Similarly, in criminal context, people often hit each other and steal other people's things. That is also the same no matter where it is. The big realization was that both Korea and America are basically facing the same kinds of problems, and Korean law and American law do not look all that different as long as one goes back to thinking about what problem they are trying to solve.

Learning Korean law as an American lawyer is like walking into another person's room. In his own room, the Korean keeps his underwear and socks in the same drawer. That might seem weird to some people, but it is not totally crazy. In fact, there is some semblance of logic to such storage. Both underwear and socks are two of the first things that the Korean would wear before getting out of the house. Both underwear and socks are small items that can get lost easily. Do they have to be kept together? No. But is keeping them together a possible solution to an everyday circumstance? Of course it is.

To the Korean, American law is his own room. Ultimately, the law is a system, and it is organized by a certain logic. Just as much as the Korean expects to find his socks in the same drawer as his underwear, he expects agency law to be a separate body of law and torts law to run parallel to criminal law.

For the Korean, studying Korean law is like entering into another person's room. The Korean expects a certain legal concept to accompany another, but often that does not happen -- as if entering the room to find a drawer holding underwear, but not socks. At first, the Korean's reaction was total dismay: "What? There is a whole body of obligations law, but not agency law? How does this make sense?" The Korean was basically asking: "Where are the socks? Why are they not next to the underwear? How does this make sense? How does this person live without socks?"

But of course, no one lives without socks. If the Korean looked hard enough, in some corner of that room, there will be socks. And when the Korean does find where the socks are, the placement of the socks in that particular location will eventually make sense. And the Korean will feel like a fool that he ever thought the person lived without socks. By the same token, Civil Law does not have to have a separate body of agency law. It is, after all, the legal system used by the vast majority of countries in the world, including advanced countries that have no problem maintaining law and order by being able to solve the same problem faced by Common Law countries. If it does not require a separate body of agency law to do that, that's fine.

This point is not limited to legal studies. It applies more broadly, to appreciating different cultures. In fact, the Korean is convinced that most people understand this idea on a certain level. In more than four years of writing this blog, the Korean has found, time and time again, that most non-Korean readers can comprehend even the most different and off-putting aspect of Korean culture as long as the Korean presents all the facts and circumstances. The closer to the ground level a post is, the more positive the readers' responses. Most people get it -- when given a certain circumstance, most people react in similar manner. As long as the circumstance is understood, the reaction to the circumstance can be understood also.

This insight also leads to a helpful lesson of just what "having an open mind to a different culture" really means. At bottom, it means having faith in the people who subscribe to the culture -- faith that these people are motivated by the same forces as we, that they are not stupid, irrational or innately predisposed to a certain temperament, that whatever they are doing will make sense once we understood the entire circumstance. It is the faith that somewhere in the room, there are socks, even though they might not be where you expect them to be.

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