Confucius listed five essential traits of a noble character
From my favorite philosopher, Confucius (551 ~ 479BCE), we can learn to live a good life and achieve happiness if we better ourselves every day through self-cultivation. In his teachings, he always juxtaposes 君子, the gentleman or the person of noble character against 小人, the person of petty character.
Confucious believed that the purpose of moral education is to live the virtuous life as seen in the Analects which is a collection of speeches and discussions between him and his various disciples that illustrate his precepts; that anyone, regardless of his station in life, could become a superior man by living a virtuous life.
How does one become a gentleman? Listed are five behaviors of the gentleman most central to the Analects; — –benevolence (ren 仁), righteousness (yi 義), ritual propriety (li 禮), wisdom (Zhi 智), and trustworthiness (xin 信)
1 Benevolence (ren 仁) Being benevolent is expressing goodwill or kindly feelings. It means love, kindness, humaneness and it comes from your heart. It refers to action as well as words.
仁 has to do with interaction with other people and to cultivate it is a constant process.
The word ‘ren’ has to do with interaction with others. It is the true defining virtue of the nobleman and is a fundamental moral principle that encompasses all virtues. To carry out ‘ren’, Confucius’s golden rule(sometimes called silver rule because of the use of negative terms) is; Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.
He also emphasized that “You want others to advance to the degree you advance yourself”. In that way, you will always have care and concern for others. To put it simply, help your fellow man along.
That thought was thousands of years ago. Though I think it is indeed a noble aim to be aspired by each one of us, some believe that you can help your fellow man along by teaching him how to fish and not providing a free handout all the time.
Being kind without understanding the circumstances may lead to over-dependence on others which is not desirable.
Confucian scholars believed that for ‘Ren’ to be expressed, it can be properly employed in (li 禮).
“If a man sets his heart on benevolence, he will be free from evil” — -Confucius
2 Righteousness (yi 義) — —refers to justice and involves the disposition to do good with intuition, competence, and sensibility to do so.
It is about doing the right thing and being unbiased. In anything that we do, give thought to the consequences and implications of our actions and words and we would be able to evade trouble and have more harmony in our lives.
The Superior Man is aware of Righteousness, the inferior man is aware of advantage — -Confucius
3 Ritual (li 禮)— — refers to propriety or decorum — action step that demonstrates kindness and empathy, respectful behavior, good manners, and the expressing of thanks. They allow connection and channel for the flow of 仁 (benevolence) and 恕（forgiveness).
Confucius was big on rituals in worship, customs, and ceremony. That is a good thing because it did not trivialize the situation at hand and can be enjoyable.
Ritual (li 禮) is important because it cultivates good manners, the connection between people, and orderliness. Applying it makes an event more significant as well as memorable.
Confucianism is inherently hierarchical in nature to incorporate li. Confucius had established these five constant relationships which help to ensure order.
Ruler-subject, parent-child, husband-wife, elder sibling-younger sibling, older friend-younger friend.
The key is that each has the responsibility and must carry out his role well. Then the respect earned will ensure order.
For example, in Asian societies, we usually address our parents or seniors before we eat or when we enter the house. We never call our parents or seniors by their first names. Forgetting your parents’ birthdays are unthinkable.
Buying gifts when invited to a house-warming is an unspoken rule. The subjects show respect to the ruler (government) but these days, there has been much rebellion if the latter was deemed not to be caring (仁 ren) and hence lost their respect. Or an abusive husband will certainly lose his wife, by failing in his custom or duty to protect her.
For society to exist in order and harmony, it must begin in the home. For order and harmony to exist in the home, it depends on each individual in the family to establish that order.
Everyone must play their role responsibly in order for respect to be gained before there are reciprocation and success in the relationships.
The practice of rituals (li 禮) is incomplete without the incorporation of benevolence( 仁ren) in the process.
4 Wisdom (Zhi 智) — -is having the knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.
“By three ways, we may learn wisdom: FIrst by reflection which is noblest; Second by imitation which is easiest; and third by experience which is bitterest.” — -Confucius
He advocated that we must learn from our mistakes, ask questions, and learn from people who are better than ourselves. In addition, real wisdom is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance, have patience and we must not stop in our pursuits.
We can look around us and see that the survivors of today’s changing world are those who have followed all that is listed above. Indeed, a superior man should become wiser with time and not older.
5 Trustworthiness (xin信）means you are true to your word, sincere, dependable, and even honest. Like loyalty, it is the glue that binds social relationships whether between friends, government, and the populace or between family members.
Put it simply, one must honor one’s words to do something as promised or you should give a good reason why a promise is broken. If a government has vowed to fix certain policies, then after being given the mandate to rule, they must carry out the exercise as mentioned. Once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.
When I was younger, I tend to be late for my appointments with friends. Then, we had a rule especially for a group outing that if anyone is late for more than 10 minutes, the group would just leave. Once, I turned up quite late to a fuming friend and she never contacted me again. Since then, I have cultivated (xin信) and never have a problem with appointments again.
These five tenets should be aspired by everyone who wants to live a fulfilling and happy life. We extoll these virtues because if each of us practices them, the world would have fewer problems. Making it mandatory in education can imbue the young with good qualities that make them achieve harmony at home and outside. We may never be perfect but being superior to another man in this way is inspiring for a world that is getting more challenging.