I am writing you today chiefly concerned about the perceived compromised wellbeing of your townsfolk. Reading through your letter, it is not without good reasons that I suppose, that the present state of affairs of your town constitutes a great source of concern not only for me, but for your chieftain and members of the town-council as well.
It has come to my attention that many of your people are suffering from, if not are themselves to be blamed for an array of despicable occurrences happening in your town – helpless people being victimized by criminals and goons, petty disputes transpiring between and among neighbors that compromise mutual co-existence, cases of fraud being reported in the marketplace and trade-places, infighting plaguing members of the same household, among many others. With much sadness and regret, I strongly condemn these practices.
As a matter of principle, there is simply no moral justification whatsoever for such evil practices to continue or be tolerated therein your place. Nevertheless, I still brim with a fair amount of hopefulness as well. Do not be misled; your cause necessitates help, and not abandonment. For every crisis, when sufficiently addressed, leaves room for self-defining moments. Through this letter therefore, allow me address certain ethical issues which, I believe, need to be forcefully emphasized to your townsmen and women in the hope of getting your town out of such a miserable subsistence.
You have to firstly remember that in order for a community to thrive peacefully, all members must conduct themselves in a manner being morally upright. When a community does not recognize an ethical system which applies to all, without exemption, people will begin to think that they are licensed to do whatever they please. This results to anarchy; and such is a grim picture of a decadent society. Instead, people need to observe ethical norms in their lives for the sake of living peacefully others; inasmuch as they need to conduct themselves properly for the sake of goodness itself.
I may not be entirely wrong to assume that your many of your townsfolk have had their own share of misgivings and ill-motivated actions. Which is why, I see it absolutely proper to remind you of an ethical norm which I consider to be of no little importance; and I call the philosophy of reciprocity. I have long subscribed to the wisdom embracing the concept of reciprocity. Many people have come to regard this concept as the “golden rule”; and surely, there are good reasons to think so. But it is for me, fundamentally, nothing less than the supreme measurement unto where all our actions must be leveled.
Once, Tsze-kung asked me this tall question: “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life? ” In response, I simply quipped, “Is not reciprocity such a word? ” The idea behind it is in fact very simple, but surely quite telling: “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” (Confucius, 2004, p. 116). I enjoin you, Yan Hui, to remind your people to subscribe to this eternal wisdom. This is the most fundamental moral norm there is on earth right now. In life, many people will cite many reasons why they do what they do.
Some people will do things brazenly to get what they want, unmindful of whether they hurt people in the process; and I call them inconsiderate. Some people will try to accomplish things only after weighing in the benefits that they could derive from them; and I call them utilitarian. Some people may even initiate public service in order to look good; and I call them superficial. In other cases, there are some people who treat others by the measure other people treat them; and I call them retributive.
There are, to be sure, a whole host of motives for human actions. Most of them remain hidden from the scrutinizing eyes of the general public. What is dangerous about these motives is that they do not bid the community well if people will simply follow their own sets of worldviews. And if you, Yan Hui, would not define for your people a single ethical norm unto which everyone is obligated to subscribe, I doubt if lasting peaceful coexistence between and among your people will ever be attained in the soonest possible time.
There are times when the ugly motives for human actions lie underneath the deceiving cloak of ignorance or pretense. Thus, before they could hurt innocent victims if left unchecked, it is with a sense of urgency that I call upon your community to follow the rule of reciprocity. Tell your people that the maxim is based neither on personal biases nor specific cultural backgrounds. Under no circumstances whatsoever shall it cater to a select group of people only. The maxim is neutral; it does not say anything about the correctness or wrongfulness of your actions.
It does not judge people save for the judgment they take upon themselves. It does not incriminate mindlessly or unnecessarily; as it merely lays onto the shoulder of every doer the burden anticipating the consequence of all his actions. For in the ultimate analysis, it is on account of the measure by which a person desires nothing but goodness for himself or herself that I ask your people to act with the same accord and respect when dealing with others, as though they deal specifically with their very own selves.
I cannot help but be reminded of what I have written a long time ago regarding the issue. Allow me therefore to repeat them, if only I may remind your people of the necessity to correctly comport oneself in front of others, as well as act and judge as if they are the very self-same object of their actions: “What a man dislikes in those who are over him, let him not display toward those who are under him; what he dislikes in those who are under him, let him not display toward those who are over him!
What he hates in those who are ahead of him, let him not there with precede those who are behind him; and what he hates in those who are behind him, let him not therewith pursue those who are ahead of him! What he hates to receive upon the right, let him not bestow upon the left; and what he hates to receive upon the left, let him not bestow upon the right! This is called the standard, by which, as by a measuring square, to regulate one’s conduct. ” (cited in Dawson, 1915, pp. 120-121).
Once again, I invite your community to immediately agree, with a great sense of necessity and urgency, on a single and definitive ethical system which is to be adopted by every household. As indeed, I remind you to subscribe to the wisdom behind the philosophy of reciprocity. There is nothing more important to anyone than to see himself and other people living in harmony and peace. And this goes true for me as well inasmuch as I have long endeavored to ‘reform (our) society’ (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1995, p. 278). Let us therefore help one another to achieve this otherwise elusive dream by helping yourselves become more civil and respectable in the eyes of our larger country. I remain, Confucius
(2004). The Analects by Confucius. First World Publishing. Dawson, M. (1915). Ethics of Confucius: The Sayings of the Master and His Disciples upon the Conduct of “The Superior Man”. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The World Book Encyclopedia. (1995). Confucius. Chicago, World Book International.