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Lessons of Kindness and Goodwill

 

Due Courtesy Results From Knowing That
One’s Fellow Beings Are Mirrors to Oneself
 
 
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
 
 
 
Confucius and Theodor Herzl
 
 
 
From Ancient China, Confucianism teaches modern nations a simple and revolutionary lesson, which is of course easier said than lived up to:
 
“Sincere courtesy and good manners are necessary in social life.”
 
A reasonable degree of goodwill stimulates individual and collective lucidity. It strengthens self-confidence. It expands mutual trust. On the contrary, a culture that promotes personal aggression and the habit of disrespect for one’s opponents opens the door to chaos, fear, hatred and other forms of irrational behaviour.
 
The feeling of respect for those who think differently does not come from nowhere. Quoting Confucius, Chinese author Lin Yutang writes that living a moral life leads to good manners [1], while a lack of morality paves the way to uncontrolled aggressiveness.
 
Judaism and Christianity agree with Eastern philosophies in the central fact that lust, greed, hypocrisy and hatred, all tend to lead to one another. If one of them is stimulated anywhere, the others will spread, too. Kindness, ethics, moderation, wisdom and self-control also come together.
 
Lin Yutang writes that there is a close relation between good manners and peace politics, and adds that law enforcement is not enough:
 
“Confucianism expresses a huge dissatisfaction with the conception of government by [formal, external] law. For [conventional] law always falls one step behind manners and morals; the most charming things men do are always those that rise above legal obligations.”
 
Kindness obeys human laws, but it goes beyond that. Yutang quotes Confucius:  
 
“In presiding over law-suits I am probably as good as anybody. The point is that there should be no law-suits at all.”
 
Yutang concludes:
 
“What do civilized men do, and what should civilized nations do? Will they accommodate? Will they yield to one another? The spirit of courtesy and accommodation is the very antithesis of the spirit of strife and contention. It is the true basis of civilized living, and it is also the only possible basis of a more civilized world order.” [2]
 
Peaceful coexistence can flourish as long as different groups and parties recognize each other’s right to exist. It is not a good idea for those who seek peace to appease Nazism, anti-Zionism, Islamic Terror or anti-Semitism.
 
If someone wants to take advantage of democracy in order to destroy it, he must be stopped. An ethical common ground is needed for good manners and goodwill to freely express themselves. Mutual acceptance is of the essence, even as sharp differences exist. Kindness and courtesy need no uniformity: they result from the wisdom necessary to see the essential unity of all beings, which flows beneath the outward contrast and paradox.
 
The policy of inclusiveness is based on self-respect, in the first place. It is stimulated by common sense. A stable goodwill regarding others emerges from knowing that one’s fellow beings are psychological mirrors to oneself.
 
Theodor Herzl wrote about the rebuilding of an ancient Utopia in the Jewish lands:
 
“The New Society rests, rather, squarely on ideas which are the common stock of the whole civilized world. (...) It would be unethical for us to deny a share in our commonwealth to any man, wherever he might come from, whatever his race or creed. (...) If a man joins us - if he accepts our institutions and assumes the duties of our commonwealth - he should be entitled to enjoy all our rights. We ought therefore to pay our debts. And that can be done in only one way - by the exercise of the utmost tolerance. Our slogan must be, now and always - ‘Man, thou art my brother!’ ” [3]
 
However, cooperation needs discernment - and a severe ethics.
 
A continued verbal aggression on a personal basis erodes democracy and the foundations of coexistence. The deadly poison of ill-will seems sweet to some. Many seek the sadomasochistic pleasures of self-pity, on one hand, while considering it delicious to see the pain of the others. And these sickly forms of self-satisfaction lead nowhere.
 
The habit of frustration and negativity provokes the end of social contracts, and makes peaceful cooperation harder. To disagree is correct, of course. Boycotting is another thing. Democracy is inseparable from a sense of community, brotherhood and togetherness. Social liberties need the understanding of a fundamental principle present in Confucianism, in Judaism and Christianity.
 
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen”, says Leviticus: “Love your fellow as yourself.” [4]
 
And Confucius adds: “What I do not wish others to do to me, that also I wish not to do to them”. [5]
 
Christians have adopted the same lesson, for their New Testament teaches:
 
“Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.” [6]  
 
For thousands of years, such a universal principle has been hard to live up to, because it is necessary to change oneself, in order to improve human relations. It would be easier to travel to Mars by bicycle than to improve society in any enduring way, while ignoring the need for human beings to improve themselves in the first place. 
 
Helena P. Blavatsky wrote:
 
“To seek to achieve political reforms before we have effected a reform in human nature, is like putting new wine into old bottles. Make men feel and recognise in their innermost hearts what is their real, true duty to all men, and every old abuse of power, every iniquitous law in the national policy, based on human, social or political selfishness, will disappear of itself. Foolish is the gardener who seeks to weed his flower-bed of poisonous plants by cutting them off from the surface of the soil, instead of tearing them out by the roots. No lasting political reform can be ever achieved with the same selfish men at the head of affairs as of old.” [7]
 
And that is what we have seen in human history so far.
 
The level of kindness in society at large has a secretly direct connection to the degree of kindness in the family, in the relation of each one with himself, and with those with whom he has intimacy. 
 
A knowledge of life stimulates a sense of communion. The feeling of unity with other beings produces goodwill. Constructive thoughts form a virtuous circle and defeat the destructive chains of cause and effect.  
 
The politics of hatred is a disease that can be healed.  One of the first steps in recovering the health in collective life consists in accepting the inevitable identity between the nation and its rulers and leaders. The Jewish book of Ben Sira, of the second century before Christian era, says:
 
“A judge of the people chastens his people and the kingdom of a person of understanding will be well ordered. As is the judge so are his attendants and as is the chief person in the city so are its inhabitants. A profligate king will bring a city to ruin but a city will become well-populated through the good sense of its rulers.” [8]
 
Up to a certain extent, each nation has the ruler it deserves.
 
An immoral nation will not be governed by saints. A just community tends to have worthy rulers. As the leaders influence the country, so the community largely makes, and selects, its leaders.
 
The ruler is the mirror of the people. Such a magic looking-glass sometimes reflects positive aspects of the souls of the community; sometimes negative aspects. In any case, there are lessons to be learned by all involved.
 
Citizens can always try to attain a better understanding of what they think they see in the mirror. They may wish to change the mirror, too, if it fails to stimulate the best in them, and that is their right to do, in democracies.
 
It is no use to spit on the mirror or to break it, because mirrors can only offer images of the stuff that makes a nation, and photographs of its potentialities, good and bad. Besides, that which citizens may like one day, they may dislike a few months later. Perhaps they reject a leader now only to feel grateful to him in the future - or the other way around.  
 
The central point to consider is that by improving oneself one improves the world. As we have respect for others, we expand our self-esteem. And by strengthening his sincerity to himself and his conscience, the citizen becomes essentially honest with his adversaries. 
 
NOTES:
 
[1] In “Between Tears and Laughter”, Lin Yutang, Blue Ribon Books, New York, 1945, 216 pp., Chapter 10.
 
[2] “Between Tears and Laughter”, Lin Yutang, Blue Ribon Books, New York, 1945, pp. 84-85.
 
[3] “Old New Land”, Theodor Herzl, Markus Wiener Publishers, Princeton, 296 pp., see p. 152.
 
[4] The Torah and the Bible, Leviticus 19:18.

[5] “The Analects”, Confucius, Book V, Chapter XI.
 
[6] Matthew 7:12.
 
[7] “The Key to Theosophy”, Helena P. Blavatsky, Section XII, p. 231.
 
[8] See passages 10:01, 10:02 and 10:03 at “The Book of Ben Sira”, also known as “The Wisdom of Ben Sira”, “Sirach” and “Ecclesiasticus”. It is available online. Click to see a more precise link to the passage quoted.
 
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The above text was published in the associated websites on 27 May 2019. It can also be read in the blog of Carlos Cardoso Aveline at The Times of Israel.
 
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See the article “The Philosophy of Respect”.
 
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Lessons of Kindness and Goodwill
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