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  • Writer's pictureAku Energija

The Five Virtues Of Confucianism For A Happier And More Successful Life

If you’d like to have a happy and successful life, it is important to start on the basics — our own self. Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher and teacher, was one of the wisest sage in East Asia. The classical literature on Confucianism exhorted leaders to practice five core virtues as the basis for becoming a noble person (Junzi 君子) and for sustaining harmonious communities built on trust and good example. Confucius’ teachings stressed personal exemplification over certain rules of behaviors. These virtues are important principles and pillars to ourselves and our society for our happiness and harmony.

If you are too busy to read all the text below, just remember these 5 points:

  • Benevolence — 仁 (ren) Be kind and show respect for yourself and others. Add values to other people’s life. Think win-win.

  • Righteousness — 義 (yi) Understand the full context of a situation and do the appropriate things.

  • Propriety — 禮(li) Understand and respect the local customs. Help your family and community. Be respectful and loyal to any relationships you are in.

  • Wisdom — 智(zhi) Enjoy learning and look up to wisdoms. Learn the experience of other successful people in different businesses, backgrounds and times. Take those knowledge into action and transform the wisdom in your thoughts in order to make a good judgment in any situations.

  • Trustworthiness — 信 (xin) Develop trust in yourself and other people. Always act with honesty and integrity in everything you do.

“The wise never doubt. The Humane never worry. The brave never fear.” ― Confucius, The Analects

1. Benevolence — 仁 (ren)

Ren (仁) Benevolence is one of the core values of Confucian tradition. Benevolence is an act of kindness towards ourselves and others without expecting anything in return.

The practice of Benevolence is up to oneself and the key is to do our own part. Confucius said, “ for a craftsman, if he wants to do his job well, he must first sharpen the tools he uses”, “Benevolence is up to oneself, one should desire Benevolence, and it is the ultimate goal.” These words mean to us that Benevolence is the result of personal striving, self-discipline and commitment.

If we improve ourselves, we are likely to help others to improve. If we always act with benevolence and practice it in our daily life, then benevolence is already part of us. Confucius defined benevolence as “wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.” Confucius also said, “Benevolence is not far off, for those seek it has already found it.”

Remember to always be kind to yourself, so you can be kind to other people and the world will be a better place.

2. Righteousness — 義 (yi)

In Chinese philosophy, Yi (義) refers to righteousness, justice, morality, and meaning. It involves a moral disposition to do good, and also the intuition and sensibility to do so competently. Yi resonates with Confucian philosophy’s orientation towards the cultivation of benevolence (ren) and skillful practice (li).

Yi represents moral acumen which goes beyond simple rule following, and involves a balanced understanding of a situation, and the “creative insights” necessary to apply virtues “with no loss of sight of the total good. Yi represents this ideal of totality as well as a decision-generating ability to apply a virtue properly and appropriately in a situation.”

“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nations. When there is order in the nations, there will peace in the world.” — Confucius

3. Propriety— 禮(li)

Li (禮) encompasses a constellation of related meanings, making it difficult to render with a single English word. Thus, it is translated in a number of different ways including "ritual action," "propriety," "customs," "etiquette," "morals," and "rules of proper behavior." Propriety means politeness or the quality of conforming to conventionally accepted standards of behavior or morals. It is a form of respect for ritual — the proper way of doing things in the deepest sense.

The teachings of propriety promoted ideals such as filial piety (the important virtue and primary duty of respect, obedience, and care for your parents and other family members), brotherliness, good faith, and loyalty. In all cases, the term Li refers to a range of human activities (from ancestor worship to dinner-table etiquette) and the attitudes of propriety that stimulate and reinforce them. The general Confucian perspective is that the cultivation of these activities and attitudes promotes peace, harmony, and proper governance within society.

The influence of Propriety guided public expectations, such as the loyalty to superiors and respect for elders in the community. Propriety should be practiced by all members of society. Propriety involves the superior treating the inferior with politeness and respect. As Confucius said “a prince should employ his minister according to the rules of propriety; ministers should serve their prince with loyalty” (Analects, 3:19).

4. Wisdom — 智(zhi)

Zhi (智). This is "wisdom." It means not just having knowledge (知), but with that knowledge, also having the capacity to make correct judgements and decisions (therefore a sun 日 below the character of 知, referring to a higher guidance). If you have "wisdom" you also have reason. You have discretion regarding good and evil, right and wrong, what is acceptable or not acceptable to do. Knowing all of that could be called "wisdom". Wisdom is the characteristics of having knowledge, experience, and good judgment in any given situation.

Wisdom is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for failure to uphold the cardinal moral values of Benevolence and Righteousness.

Confucius affirmed that "true knowledge (wisdom) consists in knowing that you do know what you do know and that you do not know what you do not know" . Thus, he himself was a studious, observant, inquisitive person. Never content to rest on his laurels or to take anything for granted. Confucius respectfully asked about local customs and values upon entering any new place and would pursue the answer to any serious question to which he did not know the answer.

People of ren are cultivated to manifest ren in their lives; the wise person (zhizhe 智者), however, are particularly discerning and have an abundance of reflective life experience, learning, practice-and derring-do. Beyond embodying and expressing ren and the other standard virtues of a well-cultivated person (junzi 君子, gentlemen), they grasp the patterns of change and formation and the roots of harmony. Thus, beyond taking ease in being of ren, the wise consciously bring ren and the other virtues to bear when they see problems or better ways to benefit humanity.

5. Trustworthiness — 信 (xin)

Trust or, more precisely, being trustworthy, plays a central role in the Confucian ethic. “Xin” is usually understood as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, faithfulness, or sincerity.

Trustworthiness means that one’s words must be well founded. For generations, trustworthiness has been explained as allowing neither deception nor falsehoods in one’speech. The Analects states, “Trustworthiness is similar to ritual principles: when words are trustworthy, they can be repeated.”

In the Analects, Confucius said, “if one is trustworthy, others will give one responsibility.” This means if you are trustworthy, others will be more likely to rely upon you. In the workplace, if you are known for trustworthiness, your manager will take notice and are more likely to give you important tasks (and hopefully) therefore you will be compensated better with a higher salary, and get a promotion when time comes.

Confucius said “trustworthiness is superior to strength, ability to flatter, or eloquence”. He further explained that trustworthiness was superior to either food or weapons, concluding: “If the people do not find the ruler trustworthy, the state will not stand.” In the corporate world, the directly proportional relation between responsibility and trust is articulated by Edward Romar:

While all members of a fiduciary society are required to behave morally, the shared values of natural hierarchy and division of labor demand, even more, that leaders conduct themselves ethically. In hierarchical relationships characterized by a division of labor, power and responsibility flow upward. In this situation the higher a person is in the organization, the more control and influence he has and the more his behaviour impacts those below. Consequently, the need for trust becomes more important, since those in the lower relationships have less control over those above.

Are all these teaching only on paper? Read more about Applying Confucian Virtues in Finance


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