Setting examples and addressing the problem of Entitlement

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | | Tuesday August 5, 2014

If teaching is the first step to saving Confucianism, whose responsibility is it to teach? Is it the parents, school or state? The Bible and Confucius unequivocally affirm that it in the responsibility of parents, parents who must naturally be imbued with virtues and set the right examples. Setting examples is important as children whose parents are chronic, incurable liars will have no qualms about telling lies themselves as the apple does not fall far from the tree. Parents of children who are abuse and are disrespectful to their own aged parents can expect the same treatment from their children when they age. What goes around comes around, and one will always reap what one sows.

Confucian ideology states that ill disciplined children are the result of neglectful parenthood. Much as there are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents; there are no delinquent children, only delinquent parents. It is likened to a pet dog which is an untrained menace, the fault lies not with the dog but the owner.

Central to the teaching of Confucius is the principle of仁 ren, defined by Confucius as love and respect for others. The root of  仁stems from filial duties and respect for one’s elder siblings: 孝弟也者,其為仁之本與.Why is filial piety and respect so fundamental? A child’s first contact with the world is through his/her parents and older siblings, from which actions and habits are transmitted, which consequently shapes character.  What it means to be孝 filial has been addressed in earlier discussions and our discussions turn to WHY it is important to be filial and respectful to parents and siblings, such that Confucian philosophy deems it the root of virtues.

Like newborn animals in the wild, infants and children are dependent on their parents for their survival and sustenance. But unlike animals, children in turn have to care for their parents when they age. This reciprocal responsibility is filial piety or孝. Giving is a learnt behavior and does not come naturally. Hence God instructed his people (the Jews) to tithe, not that God needed their money. If all one does is receive, one will not learn to give. Some people who are unaccustomed to giving even feel that they are entitled to the generosity of others as it is their God given talent! Since they do not have the gift or talent, they do not reciprocate.

What is the importance of giving? If one only takes, it engenders a sense of entitlement which in turn breeds dissatisfaction and fuels greed. It causes one to take things for granted and not be grateful. Reciprocity is fundamental to Chinese culture. The gesture of giving two mandarin oranges when visiting someone at Chinese New Year and to be given two in return by the host upon leaving only exemplifies this creed of有来有往. 

Entitlement is what drives rivaling siblings to sue each other for their share of inheritance, instead of being grateful. Entitlement is why a selfish young man on the subway train refuses to give up his seat for an elderly lady because he got to it first. Entitlement is what drives dishonest employees and CEOs to dip their hands in the till as they feel it is their right.

In the Ten Commandments, honoring parents is the fifth Commandment and is the only commandment with a promise of longevity attached to it. (Exodus 20: 12) It is not a coincidence that the commandments which follow, thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, steal or covet; all allude to entitlement. Phrased differently, you are not entitled to take another’s life, or another’s spouse, or another’s possessions, or another’s. property, servants etc. According to Confucian precepts, by being filial and respectful, one will not feel entitled to take but instead feel the urge to give.

Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother said “Kids with a sense of responsibility, not entitlement, who know when to experience gratitude and humility, will be better at navigating the social shoals of college.”

The discussion continues…