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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Being a Gentleman

"A gentleman eats without stuffing his belly; chooses a dwelling without demanding comfort; is diligent in his office and prudent and his speech; seeks the company of the virtuous in order to straighten his own ways. Of such a man one may truly say that he is fond of learning." AoC 1.14

This is one of my favorite quotes from The Analects of Confucius, one of thousands attributed to the Master, though in truth we will never know who wrote or spoke them all. Their value is no less and their impact on the last 2500 years of world history is nothing short of fundamental. I am an American, the son of arguably the most enlightened nation ever created on the Earth, a Christian, a follower of a prophet born 500 years after Confucius, and a resident of Bush Alaska, about as far from Ancient China as one could be. So, then, why study Confucius? Because I think. "To study without thinking is futile; to think without studying is dangerous." - 2.15

I love to study history and government, in my own terms: psychologically understanding the collective "mind" of humanity through case studies across the centuries. The father of modern political theory and personal/governmental morality, Confucius, represents to me a model of the quintessential teacher. He is paradoxical in nature at times, as I am in my job, my relationships, and my life. He models good behavior and preaches of correctness in civic duties, but held no posts of any real importance in life. It's like the familiar (hated by me, personally) adage: "those who can, do; those who can't..." well you know the rest. What I really love about confucianism and ethics/sociology in general, is the idea that through healthy, well-designed, self-motivated education, humanity has hope of improvement. Politics bereft of this concept are hopeless (yes, including the US).

The world is a scary place out there and the truth is we will never "get along." 

Most importantly Confucian education was humanistic and Universalist. Has the master said: AoC2.12 - "A gentleman is not a pot" (or also "a gentleman is not a tool") - meaning that his capacity should not have a specific then it nor his usefulness a narrow application. What matters is not to accumulate technical information and specialized expertise but to develop one's humanity. Education is not about having it is about being.
-Simon Leys

We will never agree that Allah is Yahweh or that Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the Trinity of Christ's Church. What we can agree on is that we are all human. We all have value. We all deserve a choice in life. Whether this choice is spiritual, ambition in the acquisition of material wealth, or educational pursuits, we should respect each other equally. The Master, always the teacher, chided to disciples often about moderation.

The key to education is positive change. A good teacher can change a student more that even the most motivated student can change themselves on their own. Negative education such as in Maoist China or brainwashing in Cambodia or the Sudan can do some of the most horrendous damage a human can withstand. Positive education such as the Buddhist enlightenment or the adoption of Ghandi's peaceful nonviolent philosophy can alter humanity in the most profound of ways. The assumption is always the same though: errant behavior comes from a lack of understanding or a lack of knowledge. Truthfulness in knowledge itself is subjective and society dictates its own norms and mores, of course, but the simplicity of the power of education is constant. The student need only realign their goals and their values to those of societies and they will become successful. In the words of the master "if only the delinquent could be taught and be made to perceive the mistake and nature of his actions he would naturally amend his ways." Confucian education is, at its core, universalist.

The utility of the education imparted is the priority. To define utility of course is also subjective. The value of hunting, fishing, and surviving in rural Alaska is eminently more important than that of classical philosophy or Latin. In a broad and general sense, Confucian education is about humanity. Essentially we should not be narrowing our focus to technical skills or career-specific abilities. Being well-rounded, polished in presentation, a life long learner, and a master of communication: these are the skills of a gentleman, not a "pot or tool." By confining yourself to a specific role in society you limit your ability to experience a deep and meaningful life.

As I described in a previous post (Schools vs Education), education is not about degrees, titles, and certifications, it is about improving oneself and expanding our horizons. It's less about doing something or attaining something and more about experiencing life or just being. Reading the story of Buddha, for example, we can relate that a world without real experiences is false and has no value whatsoever, regardless of the riches, joys experienced, and knowledge acquired. I am not on the Greater Path to Enlightenment nor do I worship my ancestors, but in all things I seek truth, justice, and morality, just as these titans of the 5th century BC. To quote the Holy book to which I choose to measure my success as a human:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

On Leadership

Being a leader means you are a virtuous model of ethics and balanced in your desire to better yourself. Being afraid to make difficult choices or of being judged is not a fear a gentleman should have. If I am living my life in the way I should, I will be secure in the afterlife and content to be judged by others. "His conscience is without reproach. Why should he grieve and what should he fear?" - 12.4. Humility and a willingness to learn from others, especially subordinates, was essential to this style. Often the Master warned of being too authoritarian with those under your command or manipulating others to obtain the results you seek. This bred contempt and subterfuge. If a leader is too brash, his team will resent him. Leading by example and encouraging ritualization to structure desired behaviors, this is my definition of Confucian leadership. Scheduling and organization, it seems, are the keys to a happy life as well as a happy office.

"When nature prevails over culture, you get a savage. When culture prevails over nature, you get a pedant. When nature and culture are in balance, you get a gentleman." - 6.18

  1. a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.

So ask yourself this: are you a savage, a pedant, or a gentleman

Sorry ladies, perhaps you should read here: "savage, pedant, or gentlewoman"