By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Tuesday April 8, 2014

If by studying a person's conduct, actions, motives and that from which he derives his pleasures would reveal his character, then consistency of the person's character will reveal just how trustworthy he is. Is a person trustworthy if he is kind only to the people who are of use to him and mean to others with whom he has nothing to gain?

Herein lies the distinction which Confucius makes between小人(xiaoren) or knave, a person who has no virtues and whose motive is personal gain; and 君子(junzi), which describes an aristocracy of nobility of character. Whilst the君子aims to work at being consistent at expressing virtues at all levels of interaction, 小人 on the other hand is unprincipled and consistently aims at maximizing personal gains.

Being virtuous 仁 (ren) is the hallmark of a君子but the consistency comes in being virtuous at all levels of interaction or relationships. The monogram 仁is formed of two words meaning two people:亻(meaning person) and 二 (meaning two). Therefore, one has to be virtuous in all relationships. They can be parent and child (父子), between siblings (兄弟), between spouses (夫妇), employer –employee (君臣) and between friends (朋友).

One's truthfulness and virtue is demonstrated by how consistent one is in all of one's dealings with others. Whether as a child, a parent, a sibling, a husband or a wife, an employer or an employee or a friend, our conduct in the different capacities should be consistently virtuous for one to be accorded the title of 君子(junzi).

We know of examples of one who may be a good friend but a bad employer who would torture and abuse her maids and domestic staff. Or one who is a good husband but who is an unfilial son who abuses and shouts at his parents in disrespectful tones. There is a story of a car dealership manager boasting their after sales service to their client. The client then turned to his chauffeur (who would bring the car in for the servicing) and asked how he was being treated by them, to see if they are consistent with their claims. Only if one's character is consistent in applying the virtues at all levels of interactions, is one fit to be attain the status of a君子(junzi).The English philosopher Francis Bacon said "Consistency is the foundation of virtue"

Of inconsistency, Pope Francis had this to say: "Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church's credibility." Credibility is just another word for trustworthiness.

A小人 (xiaoren) or knave, consistently seeks out personal benefits at the expense of others and to take advantage whenever possible. They are without principle or virtue. There are many examples of people without integrity who would find every opportunity to take advantage of their position to benefit themselves and betray the trust of the people whom they represent.

Whilst one aspires to be a君子(junzi), one must also be discerning and wise to identify the knaves (小人) by observing their consistency or lack thereof, in order to separate the wolves in sheep clothing from the sheep.