It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the KFEB, so I thought it was about time. This particular maxim, once again, comes from China; Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the era, nor the source. That being said, this one is rather straightforward and could be rooted in most belief systems.
I remember reading this one when I was younger and felt it resonate with me – the “you can’t please everyone” platitude has reached the level of cliché and, for me, never seemed to address the problem. No, you can’t please everyone – and it would be folly to try – but does this mean that you should only focus only on what pleases you? Our society would say that it should be a guiding principle, and that anyone who would try to argue the counterpoint should just piss off because “you don’t know me”, or whatever other Springer-esque retort would come to mind.
The issue for this one is the ‘satisfy our own consciences’ – the issue here is that ‘our own conscience’ is extremely subjective. Without getting all preachy here, it might be worth taking a moment to evaluate your own conscience by answering a few questions:
– Is it right to kill?
– Is it right to steal?
– Is it right to hurt?
– How do you feel when you see someone in need – and what do you do?
These are four rather broad questions, and each one has a myriad of questions that can be asked – For example, none of these tell you anything about what the circumstances are. Most people would agree that it is NOT right to kill, although this would be immediately followed by a proviso or “but…”, followed by some exception such as “in self-defence”, or if the person did something horrible to a beloved family member. Admittedly, these are grandiose statements, and most people don’t generally think about these things too often – and I can only imagine that any parents out there would have a clear conscience hurting someone who harmed or killed their children…
I’m not speaking about legalities here – simply the subjectivity of conscience.
Are these ‘reasonable’ exceptions?
What about when you see someone hurt on the ground? Do you go and offer help, or do you continue to walk/drive on by? A selfish person would have no remorse for walking on by, as they would not want to invest their time or money, nor risk their own person to help someone – they’d feel alright in letting the person suffer a few minutes longer while they wait for an ambulance.
What about a homeless person? Most people walk on by and don’t even make eye contact – as though these people are non-persons…
Having been on the other side of this equation, I know how it feels to be ignored, and treated as though I am the embodiment of societies worst fears… but, that’s another post altogether.
This is one of those difficult KFEB posts because of the subjectivity. Our modern world seems to be very individualistic and, in my opinion, has not really learned how to be so – getting people to admit when their wrong is difficult in many cases, which is a prerequisite if we are discussing the whole “act according to your own conscience” concept. Arguably, if someone can’t admit when they’re wrong, they are never going to act against their conscience as they would be able to justify their actions to themselves at any point in time. I’m not going to get into the discussion about retroactive self-justification (that humanity has an uncanny ability to self-justify their actions as necessary…) but this may be another post.
Here is something that Confucius says in the Analects that I have always found interesting, and ties in nicely to this KFEB post:
“At 15, I set my heart on learning; At 30, I took my stand; At 40, I no longer had doubts; At 50, I knew the will of the heavens; At 60, my ear was attuned; At 70, I follow all the desires of my heart without breaking any rule.”
(Analects 2:4, following translation by James Legge)
He says, essentially, that it took his entire life to develop the wherewithal to act without violating any rules…
I will still stand by the idea of satisfying my own conscience, but also with an understanding that it is a dynamic process – that my morals, ethics, and values can be situationally dependent and, like a physical muscle, you never know where your strengths or weaknesses are until you exercise them. Which may be a part of what Confucius is saying in the quote above, that one must exercise their conscientious objections to develop the strength to continue doing so – and eventually will not want for the strength to do so…
My apologies for turning somewhat preachy…