Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On being a gentleman - Confucius

Judging by the number of visits to my post On being a gentleman, there is a great thirst for knowledge on the subject of what it means to be one. And rightly so, since being a gentleman encompasses in one word the highest attainment of philosophy.
Here we are not interested in the men’s magazines’ idea of a gentleman: what the fashionable man is wearing, how to look like a gentleman without being one. (The rare times I have picked up one of these magazines I have been struck by the lack of moral awareness, the obsession with fashion and the latest gadgets, the low 'how to' advice on one-upmanship).
Here we are only concerned with the inner gentleman. Certainly a gentleman takes an interest in his appearance and manners in order not to offend or suffer disrespect. But he is infinitely more concerned with improving his character.
All cultures seem to have the concept of the gentleman, whether they call him in their language a great man, a holy man, a sage, or a wise man. I have one book of quotes on the Chinese view of the gentleman called ‘A Gentleman’s Code’, edited by Philip Chew Kheng Hoe. I give a selection of his quotes here, all attributed to Confucius. In another post I will give some by Mencius.

A great man feels no discomposure when others fail to appreciate his ability and integrity.

A gentleman is not concerned about others not knowing him. His great concern is his not knowing how to be an ideal gentleman.

A great man does not grieve that others do not know him; he grieves at his own lack of ability.

Be versed in ancient ideas and familiarise yourself with the new. Then may you become a worthy teacher of men.

It is moral cowardice to be faced with what is right and leave it undone.

A gentleman finds peace of mind in virtue and he covets it.

He who knows wisdom is not equal to him who loves it; and he who loves widom is not equal to him who finds delight in practising it.

A gentleman tries to banish from his bearing all traces of violence and arrogance, to remove from his actions all insincerity, to purge from his speech all vulgarity and impropriety.

If one has admirable gifts and yet is arrogant and mean, then all the rest of one’s qualities are not worth speaking of.

It is the way of the gentleman to prefer the concealment of his virtue while it daily becomes more illustrious, and it is the way of the base man to seek notoriety while he daily goes more and more to ruin.

A man is ailing if he makes no progress in virtue, learns nothing new, abandons no bad habits and corrects no mistakes.

What do you say of a person who is loved by all the good people in his neighbourhood and is hated by all the bad people in his neighbourhood?

Is not he a gentleman who repays injury with kindness and kindness with kindness?

A gentleman demands much of himself; a mean man demands much of others.

A gentleman is devoted to principles; he is not merely truthful.

In the service of his country, a gentleman places duty first and reward last.

It is bad to eat one’s fill all day long but do nothing to feed the mind.

The faults of a great man may be compared to the eclipses of the sun and moon which are seen by everyone. But when he reforms, all men gaze at him with respect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful sayings and worth pondering for. Thank you :-)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond