Archive for September, 2007

How to Tell When One Needs to Dissuade One’s Parents

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Years and years ago, after I had taught my kids to persist in trying to stop parents from transgressing against moral righteousness, my kids would argue with me when I asked them to do certain unpalatable things like studying, saying, “You told us to dissuade you from doing what is wrong” and “You said we didn’t have to obey or cooperate when we sincerely believed you to be wrong.” Of course, allowing that would have been tantamount to issuing young children a license to disobey parents and to be totally uncooperative.

So I gave them a simple rule to use to tell when one needs to disobey and dissuade one’s parents. It wasn’t just when one believed parents to be mistaken, it had to be when one’s parents were about to or in the process of committing an offense against moral righteousness. It was when obeying and cooperating would have helped your parents succeed in committing that offense. The test for children who were still too young not to be self-centered and stil too young to be any good at abstract thinking, was that it had to benefit the parents or the whole family, not benefit or please the children themselves, to not follow the parents’ orders. And, it was emphasized, the need to disobey parents rarely arose, if ever, for most children.

Otherwise, even if they sincerely believed the order to be dead wrong, like studying some more instead of playing when they already believed themselves to have fully mastered the material, they were still to defer to their parents’ judgment and obey the order.

It is on big and moral issues such as, say, one parent philandering and wanting to divorce the other parent that children must speak their opposition and attempt to dissuade, and persist in the performance of this duty no matter what.

Again, hopefully one never has to oppose one’s parents.

Of course, as the children grow older and approach adulthood their judgment is trusted more and more and they need to defer to their parents’ judgment less and less. Fifteen I have found to be a watershed: around that age children’s minds morph and mature into a more adult like mode. They become more capable of abstract thought and are no longer as self-centered, becoming capable of seeing things in general and seeing their own situation in particular from an objective instead of a subjective point of view. Around age fifteen I have started letting my kids call their own shots when it comes to things like when to study. Of course, even though I tell them I will no longer issue orders once they reach fifteen, it doesn’t mean I don’t bug them about things.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

When Not to Obey or Cooperate with Parents

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

According to Confucius, one must not obey or cooperate with one’s parents when doing so will land one’s parents in moral unrighteousness. Of course, this is an infreqent circumstance that one may, with luck, never encounter, but one must do one’s duty when the circumstance arises.

One day, one of Confucius’ foremost disciples, Zeng Zi, the author of the famous Xiao Jing (Classic of Xiao 孝經), stood still and let his father hit him over the head with a stick in a fit of rage. Zeng Zi almost passed out, and his father felt great remorse after. Zeng Zi, however, felt that he was displaying xiao by “accepting punishment from his father.” When Confucius heard about this, however, he got very angry. He severely reprimanded Zeng Zi for lacking xiao in having stood still instead of running away. Confucius said that only if his father was holding a thin twig should Zeng Zi have stood still to take the punishment. By letting his father hit him over the head with a stout stick, Zeng Zi was sinking his father into moral unrighteousness (陷父於不義). Indeed, what if Zeng Zi had died, Confucius asked. Then the father would have been guilty of a serious crime. Zeng Zi’s cooperation to let his father succeed in committing an offense against moral righteousness, Confucius stressed, was a great transgression against xiao.

According to another famous Confucian thinkers, Mencius, going along with instead of dissuading parents from moral unrighteousness is the second greatest transgression against xiao (the greatest being not having offspring).

Therefore, it is a Confucian, i.e. traditional Chinese, principle that one must do one’s best to dissuade parents from doing what is immoral or unrighteous. According to the classic Di Zi Gui (”Students’ Rules”), one must, in a soft tone of voice and with a smile on one’s face, advise one’s parents against the matter that is morally wrong. If the parents don’t accept the counsel, then one waits until one’s parents are in a good mood and then again try to dissuade them. If that fails weeping and wailing follows, and even if one’s parents get annoyed and angry to the point that they hit one, one should not mind. ( Di Zi Gui, page 9)

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Why Children Need to Obey Their Parents

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Although obeying parents is a key precept in the Chinese teachings about xiao` 孝 (how-3 in Cantonese), among a lot of parents nowadays it’s no longer fashionable to demand that children be obedient. Often children ask, why should they obey their parents?

The reason is that parents have the duty to care for and educate their children, and children are:
1) Not as capable of and not as versed in logic and clarity in thinking as their parents;
2) Not as knowledgeable;
3) Weak; they have less self control, less resisteance to temptation, and less ability to defer gratification.

Therefore, yes, it is true: parents do know better. On many occassions then parents will have to tell children, for their own good, to do things that they don’t want to do, or to refrain from harmful things that they want to do. So it will be distasteful for the children. If they are not taught and required to obey their parents, on those occassions children won’t do what is good for them or refrain from what is bad for them.

Thus, precisely because parents have to get children to do things they don’t want to do, children must obey parents. If parents need only to get children to do things that are fun and enjoyable, there’s no need to demand obedience.

Besides, the very fact that children obey their parents and do things that are not enjoyable trains the children to be stronger, more self disciplined, more resistant to temptation, and more capable of deferring gratification.

Of course, as children grow older there should be less and less need to order them about, as they should know what’s good for them. By the time they are fifteen they should know right from wrong and should be responsible enough that parents don’t need to give them orders very much, if at all.

Of course, as the Confucian sages have pointed out, there is one circumstance where children should not obey their parents. We’ll talk about that next time.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Character and Conduct are More Important than Academics

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

“After achieving right conduct, if there’s energy left over then study books. 行有餘力則以學文。 ” (Di Zi Gui page 6.)

Conduct and character are most important and certainly comes before book learning, i.e., before academics. That is the traditional view of authentic Chinese culture.

Of course, I don’t mean to set the two up as opposite and mutually exclusive: conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other. Good heavens, no! In fact, the two should go together: the youngsters who have good conduct also know they should exert themselves at academics and achieve the best they are capable of. In fact, achieving the best one can in all areas of endeavor, study as well as career, is considered an indispensible part of xiao 孝 (how in Cantonese), or being good to one’s parents.

The reason I bring up conduct and character as being more important than and coming before academics is because there seems to be an idea among some parents that as long as their children get good grades, it does not matter that they are often impolite, inconsiderate, rude, self-centered, mean, disrespectful, and sometimes even dishonest, especially to parents and siblings.

Actually to not have good character and conduct is to not know how to interact with people, and to not know how to interact with people is to guarantee failure and misery in life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no inner, moral strength, and to have no inner, moral strength is to not be able to cope with the many storms and setbacks that are bound to be encountered through one’s life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no compass in life, to not know right from wrong, to bend every which way the wind blows and not be able to choose the correct option at critical junctures of life. Only with good character and conduct can a successful and happy life be guaranteed.

Therefore, yes, if one has to choose, choose conduct and character over academics!

Of course, that is usually not the choice; the choice is whether to have both conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other, or to have only academics.

Even though traditional Chinese culture is one that values and emphasizes academics for thousands of years, authentic traditional Chinese culture in all its wisdom knows that, despite the importance of academics, character and conduct is more important than academic success.

That is also why American elite colleges don’t look just at grades, but also at other characteristics that often have to do with character and conduct, to decide whether to accept applicants. Often the colleges will accept someone with outstanding character over someone with better academics.

Feng Xin-ming

Web Design