13) A vulgar man always looks for favours, and forgets them when he has got what he wants. A superior man hesitates a great deal before he accepts a favour, and then he always remembers it.
I have always loved this statement – although I don’t use it very often, I realize that it has been quite fundamental for how I approach many situations in my life. Couple this with KFEB number 15 (“The Superior man loves his soul; The Inferior man loves his property. The Superior man always remembers how he was punished for his mistakes; the Inferior man remembers what presents he got.” – Confucius) which will be discussed at a later time, I’ve internalized these two to help me through some of my difficult times. I’ve also used them as part of the framework that I see others through – not solely through these two, but compartmentalization of attitudes based on personalities, etc. Almost like Jungian Archetypes, but with an Oriental flare.
Almost everyone has met someone who always asks for something, be it to borrow $5 or a lawnmower, tools, etc., and never seems to reciprocate the favour; Those people who just seem to think that they are the centre of the universe and the world spins around an axis based on their needs, and when they return the object being borrowed make it out to that they are doing the lender the favour. And yes, I will admit that I am thinking of one or two specific people from my past as I write this…
Although I have only found one reference to who this is from, a personage named Chen Chiju, I cannot find any reference to a particular philosophical lineage – nor, truthfully, any evidence that this was a real person and not a fictional character. This particular passage seems to have been included in the KFEB because either my Uncle or the person who originally gave him this list liked it so much that they had to include it.
Considering this, I do believe that this particular passage is quite in line with Confucian ideals of the Superior Man – which we have seen are based on the values of humanity and benevolence, etc. (as discussed in KFEB #5) – and essentially states as much in the passage itself. I believe that the reference to the vulgar man does not mean a verbally crass person, as many would immediately imagine as the word “vulgar” has come to be synonymous with simply uncouth verbal statements, but instead this refers to someone who is ill mannered, discourteous or boorish. They are always asking for others to help them, either financially or by giving their time and/or equipment to make their lives easier. When they have received what they wanted, they chalk it up to having already been satisfied and gotten what they wanted and forget about it – as though it was expected of the other person to give it…
I know that I’m neither perfect nor “superior”, but I’ve tried to be that person who is willing to help when it is necessary, and even without the favour being reciprocated; I strive to not need to ask for favours, and if I and when I do then I appropriately compensate those who have assisted me – reimbursing them what I may have borrowed, or making myself available when they are in need. Practically the ‘real world’ gets in the way of this sometimes, but being willing to make yourself available to help another is quite often overlooked and assumed as an obligation of friends and family.
These are often the people more likely to abuse favours, or outright not return them! What does a “Superior” person do in these situations? Do they deny favours?
As a generalization, yes – as a “Superior” person will be able to understand what is necessity and what is just greed… Are they truly in need, or is this simply because this favour would make their life more convenient?
There is the story of the “good neighbour” (colloquially referred to as the “Good Samaritan” story) in the Christian Bible where someone asked Jesus to interpret “Love they neighbour as thyself”. Jesus tells the story of a person in need who is passed over by two people (a Priest and a Levite), and was aided by a third man (the Samaritan). Jesus asked the questioner which of these three would be considered a “good neighbour”, he replied the Samaritan and Jesus told him that he should do likewise, implying that this was how to apply the “Law” (as given in the Torah) (Luke 10:25-30).
Sometimes when I think of this particular KFEB passage, I draw the parallel to this particular Christian passage. They are sort of aligned to me, although if you were to break down the constituent parts, they are rather separate concepts. I still find that these two go well together – In one corner is ‘Don’t got asking for favours that you won’t return, and if you do need a favour, always remember who helped.’ In the other corner is ‘Be a neighbour to all, and help when someone is in need.’
For a Martial Artist, or truly any student of the human condition, there is an underpinning concept to root these two ideals though – recognizing when someone is in need, and when someone is using another… I am sure this particular concept will be talked about in another post, at a later date.