Confucius Says

If the leaders desire what is good, the people will become good also.  –Confucius

Some people doubt if Confucianism is a religion.  Confucius never talked about a god; he didn’t discuss the afterlife.  His sole interest was establishing what he called The Mandate of Heaven upon the earth.  He envisioned a perfect society, without crime, war, or poverty, and believed it was possible.

To accomplish that universal human dream, Confucius thought two things were necessary: a knowledge of proper rules for human interaction, and a knowledge of how relationships were structured.  People were to treat each other with mutual respect, humility, and compassion, giving deference where deference was due.  And they were to model that proper conduct for those in their care.  Elder sons were to set the correct example for younger brothers.  Parents were to set the proper example for children.  Those in leadership were to set the right example for those being led.  Patterns of proper relationships governed the universe, and were to govern humans, as well.

For Confucius, a divine social order was possible, given by the ancestors, beginning with the ones at the top and working down.  Being social animals, we take our cues from others, and the ones up front set the tone.  Their example is then to be emulated, cascading through the different levels of society, as everyone takes responsibility to exemplify compassion and respect to someone else.

Confucius was actually the chief administrator of a province for a while.  Legend says that a man could drop his wallet on the sidewalk and find it still there the next day.  But he fell out of favor, probably with a ruler who didn’t want to be proper, and the province descended back into violence and corruption.  He wandered for a while, established a school, and refused to return to administration, since nobody met his standards.  Instead, he taught people his way of doing things.  Shortly before he died, a student wanted to pray with him, and Confucius said, “My life has been my prayer.”

As Americans debate what to do about violence in our nation, Confucius is useful to keep in mind.  Banning assault rifles, outlawing large clips, and making gun shows do background checks are all reasonable measures, but they aren’t likely to accomplish much without a change in our cultural habits.  We’re a violent society.  From the top on down, Americans frequently choose belligerence for settling disputes.  We use the rhetoric of warfare to describe everything from football games to marriage to political negotiating.  Our primary collective response to the shooting of kindergartners at Sandy Hook has been to buy a lot more guns.  Confucius would not be amused, because our cultural habits matter a lot more than our weapons of choice.

We could start by deciding as a nation to stop using war as an arm of diplomacy.  The United States has fought a major war every twenty years, including one in Afghanistan that has lasted more than a decade.  We spend more on our military than the next thirteen nations on the list combined.  If we want Americans to stop shooting each other, why doesn’t our government choose to stop shooting other people?  If we want to cut the federal deficit, why not start with the defense department?  Set an example for the type of behavior you want to see in your citizens.  If we want Americans to stop being quick on the trigger, let’s set a national standard.

The same can be said for every level of our society.  Radio commentators make money by naming enemies and exacerbating prejudices.  News shows gain viewers by blowing on flames.  Churches equate a woman’s troubled choice for an abortion as murder.  A student wrote an essay for me this week, confessing her dismay at hearing a parent who wanted President Obama dead.

Confucius says this is the source of the problem.  Our public behavior shapes our private behavior.  If compassion, humility, and mutual respect are public values, they will show up much more frequently in private interactions.  If they are values embodied by teachers, they will show up more frequently in students.  If they are values embodied by spiritual leaders, they will show up more frequently in followers.  If they are values embodied by parents, they will show up more frequently in children.  We hold the answer, just as we have ourselves to blame.

Confucius said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”  If we want to reduce violence, I’d say that’s a good place to start, on every level, for politicians, teachers, pastors, parents, friends, lovers, and pet owners.  The American problem with violence goes deeper than machinery.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

4 Responses to “Confucius Says”

  1. If only that would happen, unfortunately, this country is so caught up in violence, look at the games children play and their parents let them, it would take a miracle for things to change. Pray that it will happen……………

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