2014 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Young adult third place
The Wolf of Y Elementary School

A hallmark of an effective leader is his ability to provide for his people. While Om Sok-dae’s leadership tactics seemed autocratic and unjust at times, if we remove ourselves from the democratic lense of today’s perspective and examine his authority from an objective point of view, it is clear that he was quite an effective leader. Even though it is uncommon for leadership qualities such as Sok-dae’s to arise in elementary school kids, it should not be surprising.Sok-dae managed to construct a social framework with remarkable similarities to the pack mentality of wolves and other wild canines. Although deemed simple and somewhat primitive by humans, these social structures have survived in nature for thousands of years. So what then, distinguishes a good leader from a great one?

A wolf pack is a tight knight unit of wolves that live, hunt and play together. Wolves have a sophisticated social structure which is completely dependent on one trait: obedience. All socially oriented animals have a system of dominance within their herd, and humans are no exception. Most wolf packs generally have three layers of authority. The Alpha, the Betas, and the Omegas.

It is undeniable that Sokdae is the alpha in his class. Just as the leader of a wolf pack is physically dominant, Sok-dae is older and the best “fighter” in the class. In addition, his intelligence and manipulative nature help him to hide his weaknesses from his peers and his injustices from the teacher giving him an “eerie composure and precision quite unexpected in a boy” (Yi 108). Alpha wolves typically make decisions for the pack and coordinate the hunts when looking for food. This parallels Sok-dae’s responsibilities as monitor to oversee administrative duties. However, Sok-dae also assumes these responsibilities in the social realm outside of his monitor duties, as exampled by his organization of play time after the exams are finished. Pyong-Tae describes it as a “kingdom had established” ( Yi 150). This extension of dominance is one of the most defining characteristics of his leadership. An alpha wolf is not just a leader during a hunt, he is a leader all the time.

Regardless of how powerful Sok-dae may be, he would never be able to maintain order without an inner circle of students who enforce his will. These are his Betas, or as Pyong-tae calls them, “his hands and feet” (Yi 173). These students are what makes Sok-dae appear untouchable to Pyong-Tae, who is undoubtedly the omega at the beginning of the story. Even the teacher admits, “I have to respect the power the children have given Sok-dae” (Yi 132).

However, Sok-dae built his kingdom on the “instinctual terror” (Yi 110) of his classmates towards him rather than trust. Although he did protect his own class and “ensured that no boy in our class got beaten by a boy from some other class” (Yi 114), as the new teacher proved in his beating of Sok-dae, he really didn’t give his classmates anything worth fighting for. This is where the wolf-pack style of leadership falls fatally short in the human world. It is natural for anther wolf to test the dominance of an alpha wolf, and in this case, the new teacher did just that. If Sok-dae hadn’t been such a selfish leader, and was more just with his classmates, they may have defended him in front of the new teacher. Humans are more emotionally sophisticated than wolves, and our societies are more complex. Sok-dae’s “gifts” to his classmates were merely an expression of his own power rather than a product of an invested interest in his people. Sok-dae built his kingdom atop deception and not acceptance, and an iron fist can only rule for so long until it cracks and crumbles.

Sok-dae was a smart leader with successful short term strategies, for he was able to construct what seemed like a stable regime. However, his selfish tendencies destroyed the very kingdom he sought to preserve. In comparison with social hierarchies in the natural world, it becomes clear that his leadership tactics, though brutish and unjust, were arguably successful. His strength and deception helped him establish a social structure which, if it weren’t for a teacher, would have lasted. However, it is a testament to the resiliency of human nature that this class was able to overthrow a monitor who seemed to be invincible. This proves that a good leader can provide for his people, but a great leader truly cares about them.

Works Cited:

Conger, Cristen. "What is wolf pack mentality." Animal Planet. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. .