Searching for the source of integrity

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 5:08AM

We've been walking in the footsteps of Confucius for the past several months, discussing ways to curb unethical behavior at the workplace.

We've talked about setting the tone at the top by creating an ethical culture, using outcomes rather than outputs as a measure of performance, checking excessive remuneration and bonuses based on short term gains, using a reporting structure to promote transparency and accountability, and selecting staff based not only on merit but also on character. Those posts are available here.

All those steps are ultimately ineffective, however, if people in the organization lack integrity. So let's look at integrity.

We begin by examining the first of the eight cornerstones which define integrity, 孝 or filial piety. Piety is perhaps a misleading explanation as it connotes being pious. The word 孝 is a pictogram formed by two words:老 which means the elderly, and 子 which means son. It is an image of a son supporting old parents on his back. Perhaps a sense of duty, respect and devotion to parents would be more accurate translations.

Confucius taught that a son should be filial to parents at home. He continues that being filial goes beyond ensuring that parents are provided for, as even (household animals like) dogs and horses are cared for to that extent. Without respect, wherein lies the difference?

In what ways can one demonstrate respect for one’s parents? Confucius contends “Do not disobey." He continues, apart from sickness, do not give your parents any cause for anxiety. It is noteworthy that at that time illnesses were often associated with fatality which one has no control over. Confucius advises that when parents are alive, a filial son should not wander far afield and should always notify his parents of his whereabouts. This was sound advice before the introduction of air travel and telecommunications.

What then are the filial duties of married daughters? When a man marries a woman, the word for marry is 娶 which is a pictogram formed by two words 取 (to take) 女 (a woman), likened to western wedding custom of the bride being given away to the groom who is then asked “do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?”  When a woman marries, the word is 嫁 meaning 女 (woman) has found her 家 (home). Her husband’s home becomes her home and her parents’ home becomes 外家 or eternal home.

In the traditional Chinese model, which contrasts with today's cultural norms, her filial duty henceforth is to her in-laws and her new allegiance is most evidently demonstrated on two occasions: at Chinese New Year, when it is customary to spend the first day with her in-laws’ family and the second day with her parents’; at the annual visits to the ancestral graves when it is customary for her only to pay respect only to her husband’s ancestors and not her parents.’

The discussion continues………