It seems to me, the Confucian ideal of Human Heartedness, is one we all should emulate. It has been translated into many English words and phrases, but I prefer human heartedness, because it sums up most all of what Confucius wanted to say, as evidenced by his teachings. Those who should emulate human heartedness the most are our leaders since Confucius had the most to say to them. Unfortunately, most people in the West, when they hear “Confucius…” they turn off. The name has been so diminished from it’s rightful stature, from Charlie Chan movies, where the name Confucius became a punch line. Others cannot fathom how anything someone said in 550 BC, could have any relevance to today. They turn their backs on ageless wisdom to their own and our detriment. The human condition and indeed humans themselves have changed very little since then. We still strive for pleasure and avoid pain, we still fall into traps and snares and it is egoistic self interest that baits those pitfalls. Yes, Confucius and his human heartedness have a great deal to say to us today, to ignore such wisdom is to see the pit and yet step into it anyway.
A large component of human heartedness is the Golden Rule… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Every one of us could benefit from following the golden rule. Better even to double down and hold others to a lower standard then we hold ourselves. It is in our animal nature to hold others to a much higher standard than we hold ourselves and in our civilized nature to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We would benefit by living in a civilization where there can be less laws, less draconian punishments and less government, because we control ourselves from within instead of needing to be controlled from without. Prosperity would increase, since regulations, laws and ordinances are friction to the economy, but become more and more needed the more barbaric the people become. We should all incorporate human heartedness, the golden rule, into our lives.
Human heartedness is all about compassion and empathy. The golden rule is also explicitly about empathy. As I wrote in my last article, compassion and empathy are paramount human attributes, that lead to civilization and away from barbarism. The barbarian has no compassion and no empathy. When an Italian city state was being attacked by the Gauls, Roman dignitaries were called to mediate. One of the Romans asked the Gaul general, “By what right do you lay siege to this city?” The Gaul answered back, “Natural law, that the strong must take from the weak, so the strong can survive and the weak die out…” But what the Gaul didn’t understand is that there are many forms of strength and a multitude of forms of weakness. His was marshal strength, a strength that always has it’s better, he lacked wisdom. We must have compassion and empathy else we become like the Gaul general, strong in might but weak in wisdom.
One of Confucius’ disciples asked, “Does the human hearted man love all?” I suppose referring to Mo Ti’s all embracing love. Confucius said, “No! The human hearted man loves the good and despises the bad.” Clearly Confucius didn’t want good men to turn their faces from evil and so allow it to grow. To be human hearted is to lift up that which is good, in other words… pragmatically benefits individuals, society and culture, while attacking the bad, that which lowers people, harms society and rots the culture. It is obvious that embracing evil as well as good gives evil a leg up, since the good will be fair and honest while evil will use good’s virtues against it. To have a prosperous society where crime is low we need to be human hearted and embrace good while fighting evil.
When talking about leaders Confucius liked to refer to the Sage Kings of “old.” The sage kings led, as Confucius would argue, “by force of personality,” or to put it in modern terms, they led by example. If they wanted the people to be more honest in their business dealings, they would be more honest themselves, and if they wanted the people to stop lusting after each others wives, he would forswear it himself. In that way the leaders of the great society would convince the people to be virtuous. The Duke of Lu asked Confucius one time, how he could get the people to stop lusting after ill gotten profits, women and luxury. Confucius told him to stop doing those things himself and the people would follow. Confucius had to flee Lu state shortly after. The leaders of society want the people to be virtuous, but can hold to the virtue the demand in another, for a single day. If we want our children to live in a safe, prosperous and civil country we must only elect human hearted leaders, who will lead by example.
When Confucius was asked what he would do if he were made emperor, Confucius replied, “I would rectify terms…” or put another way, he would set standards. Standards apply to everyone equally, they create systems where commerce can flourish and they level the playing field for everyone. Today standards are eschewed for regulations, ordinances and laws. Instead of everyone on the same level, regulations are specifically designed so some politically favored group, can get a leg up on an otherwise free exchange. Where a standard is what it is, no matter how politically favored a person is, application of a law is dependent on who the person is. Look at Hillary Clinton’s wiping a subpoenaed email server before turning it in. If you or I did that, what was on it would instantly become irrelevant and we would be charged with a felony, tampering with states evidence. She however was not. A standard is the antithesis of arbitrary rule. For any country to flourish the leaders have to be human hearted, setting and holding everyone, including themselves, to a standard.
There is no question, we are no different than the people who lived before us, oh we might drive cars, talk to people on the other side of the planet, and have put a man on the Moon, but essentially we are the same. We have the same desires, wants and needs. Therefore, wisdom that applied to human beings in 550BC still apply to us today, perhaps more so since we have grown arrogant, egoistic and self aggrandizing, not for our achievements, but for the achievements of those who have come before us. How many among us could create a gasoline engine, having never seen nor heard of one before, yet most of us take them for granted, and look down our noses at those who didn’t have them. Yes, our society, civilization and personal lives would benefit greatly from following the wisdom of Confucius, and becoming more human hearted.