I am currently reading the Analects, by Confucius, along with selected commentaries from scholars, written over the past 2,000 years.

I find Confucius to be a highly practical philosopher and many of his precepts (and the voluminous discussions and debates over these precepts) to be very useful.

One of the things Confucius discusses is the importance of individuals regulating and controlling their impulses, as well as their mouths. He said its far more important for somebody to be discreet with secrets and confidences, diplomatic in speech, fair in their dealings with others, and reliable/trustworthy in their commitments, than it is for them to memorize 100,000 lines from an epic poem. For him, the best form of learning is practical and dedicated to self-improvement, rather than from the mastery of esoteric theory.

In Confucius' writings, we find a formula for creating a harmonious and tranquil state. He says that the most important thing is to have harmonious and stable families. He says that the family is the smallest and most basic building block of society, the atoms from which all social molecules, elements and compounds are created. If there are bad relations between parents and children, if children lack manners and learning, if households lack economic security and mutual love and respect, that this is a contagion and will damage the village, and from the village, it will damage the county, and from the county, damage the province. From the province, it damages the kingdom. As such, he says its the responsibilities of all Emperors and kings to ensure that the family is secure, taken-care of, and that they are harmonious. He says that a nation with strong families can persevere in the face of famine, military defeat, economic chaos and environmental catastrophe. But a nation with weak and disharmonious families will have even greater suffering in the face of those calamities.

One of the biggest problems in the West, is that Conservatives have focused way too much on attaching idiotic obsessions with what people do with their private parts, onto the label of "Family Values." The result has been that liberals and progressives assume that whenever somebody is talking about "Family Values," that they are homophobes, sexists, prudes and the like.

That said, I think that one can be a liberal and progressive on all these things, and still believe that the home should be harmonious. That families should be provided for, children should be respectful, learn, and have good manners; that the family is the basic building block of social stability and tranquility.

One of the drawbacks of Confucius, though, is that his emphasis on stability and tranquility is so profound, that it leads to unjust situations that reinforce oppressive social relations. The state is seen as the end-all, be-all of existence. The power of fathers and elders becomes unchangeable. People are forced to sacrifice their own interests, desires and passions for the good of the "group."

Modern western culture, in contrast, promotes the extreme opposite of these things.

I believe that the best thing is to be informed by both cultural currents, and seek a happy medium between the two.

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Comment by Anna Herrington on February 6, 2018 at 11:47am

Along with a couple completely different other books I'm reading, I currently keep open and so am sporadically re-reading, Meditations, Marcus Aurelius's collected writings.... I'd been focused on it more this past week as I find his writings balm, even and/or especially where I wouldn't think similarly or necessarily agree.

Interesting to note the similarities to what you post here on Confucius' sayings, but I suppose, not surprising at all.


I find myself lately thinking of the respect for elders vs adoration of youth as another aspect of values vastly different between east and west traditional/stereotypical cultures... 

Comment by koshersalaami on February 6, 2018 at 5:06pm

Who is one’s responsibility to and how much? Important question. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 13, 2018 at 3:07pm

Confucius say man who ignores his own experience and clings instead to the words of a philosopher demeans both.


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