Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: conflict

Cultivate Yourself First

The sage of old cultivated himself before he attempted to help others. If you yourself are not cultivated, what help could you possibly be for others? Do you know how virtue is lost and how mere knowledge arises? True virtue can be destroyed by fame, and mere knowledge is often reached by conflict. Fame is something that can be used to beat down others and knowledge is used to attack others. Both are instruments of evil and the sage has no need of either.

Confucius quoted in the Tao Te Ching

Confucius is talking to an enthusiastic do-gooder who wishes to tutor a tyrannical prince. The whole discussion is very interesting. Each time the young man suggests that he has found the right way to influence power then Confucius explains how the strategy will fail.

To seek to do good, through the agency of another person, is an exciting dream and it is hard not to indulge it. We may think we know exactly who the football manager should pick for his team or we may think we know exactly what the Prime Minister should do for the best. But it is a kind of cheating – instead of trying take on that role – with all of its responsibilities we wish simply to act as puppeteer: do this, do it my way.

However I am not sure how Confucius would respond to the logic of democratic politics and the need for debate and policy. Equality and citizenship allows, in fact should encourage, debate and mutual tutoring because these things are proper to the function of the citizen. This kind of influence is not a dream it is a responsibility – but there can be no short-cut through the agency of the powerful.

Six Blind Men of Hindustan

There were six men of Hindustan,
to learning much inclined,
Who went to see an elephant,
though all of them were blind,
That each by observation
might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant,
and happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
at once began to bawl,
“This mystery of an elephant
is very like a wall.”

The second, feeling of the tusk,
cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an elephant
is very like a spear.”

The third approached the elephant,
and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
thus boldly up and spake,
“I see,” quoth he,
“the elephant is very like a snake.”

The fourth reached out an eager hand,
and felt above the knee,
“What this most wondrous beast
is like is very plain” said he,
“‘Tis clear enough the elephant
is very like a tree.”

The fifth who chanced to touch the ear
said, “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
deny the fact who can;
This marvel of an elephant
is very like a fan.”

The sixth no sooner had begun
about the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
that fell within his scope;
“I see,” said he, “the elephant
is very like a rope.”

So six blind men of Hindustan
disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
exceeding stiff and strong;
Though each was partly in the right,
they all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

John Godfrey Saxe

It may be that the treatment for attitude is experience. But what do we each experience? Our experiences are never the same. As Hannah Arendt argues: it is only when we allow different perspectives to come into view and when we try to understand and integrate those perspectives that we can then come towards some kind of ‘sanity’ (wholeness).

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