"A Shift in Values"

Dillon Stock
November 1, 2014

I look around at society today as a whole and in specific personal scenarios and I wonder if the way we conduct ourselves as Americans is morally permissible. I see children disobey and disrespect their parents just as I see students and employees disrespect their teachers and superiors. Is it honorable to conceal our hesitancy when we feel as though the methods of our superiors are questionable, or their style is ineffective? Those that hold the doctrines of Confucianism in high regard, as they have for thousands of years, believe that it is. They maintain that it is in the best interest of society to perpetually demonstrate respect toward figures of authority.

During the time of Confucius, respect was truly considered a virtue. Children were taught to respect their parents and, as they developed and matured, they learned to respect their teachers, their superiors, and their government. For the most part, people in China that believe in Confucianism strive to act with virtue simply for the sake of goodness. This mentality is known as virtue ethics.

I hardly see the application of virtue ethics in modern America. I see Americans acting selfishly in ways that resemble Ayn Rand's ethical egoism. We are selfish; acting with our own interests in mind even if it is something that will inconvenience someone else. Instead of trying to work in unison to improve the quality of life for everyone, we are constantly competing. Competition is a key component of capitalism, which is an economic system that we take pride in and has helped make us a successful and powerful country, but do we take it too far?

It would be beneficial to our society if we acted more in accordance with the values of Confucianism. Confucius taught that a gentleman does not speak about something which he does not know; meaning it is better to be silent than to pretend to know something you do not. To act on this is to demonstrate wisdom and self-control. I see so many people speaking in ignorance on things they know nothing of instead of simply admitting they aren't familiar enough with the subject to discuss it in depth. This is one example, although there are many, where acting as Confucius taught is preferable to the way many of us act each day.

American society values youth and spontaneity where ancient Chinese valued the wisdom that comes with age and experience. One thing that we may value more than effortlessness is the appearance of effortlessness. We want to achieve great things while making it appear as though it comes with complete ease to the public. It would be better to work hard and be proud of that work.

Another trend that is emerging in our culture is people becoming accustomed to instant gratification. In ancient China, as well as in other ancient cultures, effort and passion were common and patience was simply required. As a referential comparison, people used to have to fish their own food and the knowledge that a book can offer was a rare treasure. Now we can order fast-food and it is ready in minutes or if we are feeling curious about something we can ask a search engine.

I find it interesting how morals and values change over time and between cultures. Differences in population, religion (or ideological doctrines), and even technology play large roles in shaping the behavior and interactions that take place each day within a society.






Wu Daozi's (680–740) portrait of Confucius.