Confucius is a renowned Chinese teacher and philosopher. The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasizes personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity. The ultimate desire of Confucianism is reaching junzi, or becoming the gentleman. Confucius once said, “Once everyone controls themselves and observes Li, the entire world will return to benevolence. If everyone could observe Li and do the best in completing their own responsibilities, then there wouldn’t be so many troubles in society, and the entire world will be at peace.”
Rituals are a set of social rules. Following rituals means taking on, performing, and completing the duties and responsibilities that are expected of you. Basically, you shouldn’t be doing what you know you are not supposed to do.
Rituals are the appropriate way you should be using your role and status to deal with others. This means exemplifying different duties based on who you interact with. The scope for rituals can extend from national standards to laws to just between a few people. In order to perform rituals to better society, you must be aware and remember your own status and identity. When you interact with your child, you are taking on the responsibilities as a parent. But, your relative identity must change depending on who you talk to and continue to follow through during the whole situation. When you interact with your boss, you are taking on the duties as an employee. When you interact with your parents, you are taking on the role of a child. You would subordinate yourself and use the most appropriate identity when interacting with your elders, or those in a higher position of power than you; this process is known as filial piety. Out of respect, you would not talk to your boss or parent the same way you would talk to a small child.Order now
So, why do Confucians find the practice of Li, ritual etiquette, so essential? The answer: The balance of a society is only maintained through the practice of rituals. Li is seen as the sum of individual relationships with a greater society. If everyone fulfills their job by hosting and leading rituals, then families, companies, and cities could eventually maintain its proper balance and exist in peace. But, Confucians also stress the fact that Li will help self-cultivation, the betterment of your being. By performing rituals, practicing filial piety, finding balance, and educating yourself in the arts, you will grow as a better person. You, as an individual, will become benevolent. The kind of person you are determines how you live and what you will achieve. The outcomes will be ren (goodness), zhang (dutifulness), and shu (sympathy).
But, I find this entire concept confusing. Rituals have helped in the development of my life, but they also only give me temporary satisfaction and enjoyment.
Performing rituals is supposed to be an action that is required of both parties. Though, it seems that rituals are all about pleasing other people and conforming to what they want. We move our shopping cart into where it belongs and don’t leave it in the middle of the parking lot, just so that the next driver doesn’t get frustrated when looking for a spot. We cover our mouth when we cough, so that the person next to us doesn’t get sick. We tip-toe and try to be to quiet when someone is sleeping, so that they won’t wake up. We talk to people we don’t have anything in common with because we are stuck with them whether at school or at work. We say ‘yes’ to things we don’t want to do, or make us uncomfortable, out of fear of being reprimanded.
All of these things are helping other people become happier, which is benefitting the function of society as a whole– less complaining, less stress, less sickness, less injury. But, I feel like I am considering the feelings of other people when I perform these rituals, instead of my own. I get frustrated because I try so hard to please other people, in hopes of someone doing it back and helping me, but that is rarely the case. Some may call me ‘too nice.’ But, why does this term exist? What does it even mean? Why should one out of a hundred people be ‘too nice’? Aren’t we all supposed to be ‘too nice’? Aren’t we all supposed to be good people and follow ritual? Am I crazy for expecting a little effort in return from society?
Rituals are like a set of rules that bind people together. But, these rules are external, it’s not something that comes from the inside. We can’t force people to behave in a certain way if they aren’t willing to. So, how do we get people to want to perform rituals and behave appropriately? The Confucian answer to this is that the concept of benevolence is already inside of us. We just have to educate people, so that they are willing to behave nicely and it is coming from the inside.
But, I don’t believe this is true. I refute the Confucians argument with Xunzi’s way of thinking. People are inherently bad. They are selfish and greedy. If people were inherently good, they would have the inborn dispositions to willingly perform rituals and help better society.
Why should some of us be already educated and some of us not be? I shouldn’t contribute to the happiness in other people’s lives, if they aren’t contributing to mine. Maybe I should start putting in minimal effort and start saying ‘no’… I mean, it has been working so far for most people, right?
Confucians consider death to be natural and inevitable. They are more concerned with how well we live this life properly. So, does anything we do really matter? In the end, I don’t think we, as individuals, should perform rituals. Especially, if they are not benefitting us or our afterlife. It may be a selfish thing to say, since it may harm society as a whole, but in my opinion, I wouldn’t want to live knowing that I was always unhappy with my life because I was too busy pleasing other people and not doing what I wanted.
So what? Why does it matter if rituals make us good individuals or just make us blend in society? If rituals helps us grow as good individuals, we need to perform them more and integrate them throughout our daily lives. If rituals have no effect on our being and just make us mere products of society, then we need to completely eradicate them.
Blending in with society potentially means that no one is unique. It doesn’t matter who you are or what special talents you can contribute, because everyone has the same path they must abide by and beliefs they must follow.
In my opinion, human nature is bad. However, rituals do contribute in helping individuals grow in goodness and becoming the gentleman. The only problem is that not many people practice or perform them. We need more ritual in society and more people becoming educated. If not, people will get angry, and question whether doing good things is even worth the hassle.
Instead of a few people contributing to there being less complaining, less stress, less sickness, and less injury… everyone should undoubtedly delve into completely eliminating stress, sickness, and injury.