Monday, January 05, 2015

At 40, I have no doubt that Confucius is wrong !

One of the WTF moments I had turning 40 is that I had the luck to know of Confucius very ancient ideas of personal development earlier to see if it is possible to compare my personal development with the Great Confused One.

I was not surprised that this effort made me more confused.

This was taken from Analects 2.4.

At 15 I set my mind on learning; by 30 I had found my footing; at 40 I was free of perplexities; by 50 I understood the will of Heaven; by 60 I learned to give ear to others; by 70 I could follow my heart’s desires without overstepping the line.

So at the age of 40, Confucius claims that he was free of perplexities - someone who has no doubts.

One contextual interpretation is that during those bad old days, there are many gurus or snake-oil salesmen who can survive selling personal philosophies and as a sage, Confucius needed a lot of confidence to be able to put himself forward as a great teacher. 

We no longer live in the time of Confucius. People in their 40s have more doubts than ever and are plague with more perplexities. Mortgage liabilities and children continue to take a toll on workers in this stage of their lives. Many will wonder what they have done wrong with their careers when some of their peers have started on directorships. So even if we are ethnic Chinese, Singaporeans are full of doubts, some over what is morality, but our doubts stem from whether we made the right choices in our lives. 

I have my own personal biases as an Ang-Moh Pai Potatoe eating Ethnic Chinese, one of these biases is that I've always been very sensitive of the Teng Lang Pai Chinese helicopters who come from all those loyal Chinese schools and favored as loyal and conscientious citizens. 

( Of of these things I was very sensitive about is their chauvinism. In a truly multi-racial society, designating ethnic Chinese students into special conclaves to study their mother tongue is a horrible idea which needs to be struck down in the next elections. We can designate special institutes for some passionate students to cover their mother tongue as a first language on Fridays and Saturdays. In normal days, Singaporeans should have contact with all races and this should include foreign nationals as well. )

Coming back to Confucius, I do marvel at his intellectual arrogance in thinking that he has no doubts. 

This is not a simple matter. this is something which affects our daily lives. 

I am increasing noticing that many folks in their 40s, uncles and aunties like myself are starting to develop psychological defenses to account for their own mediocrity. I urge readers to just observe the folks they meet during Chinese New Year. 

a) Success and wealth are immoral

This psychological defense is erected to show that the folks more successful they are more more immoral. For example, one might argue that someone lives in landed property because he is a successful salesman - he cheats people for a living and unlike honest folk, does not work with their hands. 

b) Success can be proxied.

This second psychological defense is erected when face with someone perceived to be more successful than them. This is fine, as they know someone who is "lagi" more successful. 

Is this not the moral development hinted at by Confucius ? 

Uncles and aunties in their 40s, having no doubts at the corruption and mediocrity of the folks they are compared against ? 

Maybe I am immature, I think this is mainly an Ethnic Chinese problem within my own community. I don't experience much of these amongst other races, so do feel to correct me if I am wrong. 

In summary, the only thing which I have no doubts is that Confucius' teachings do not mirror my own personal development. 

I doubt whether the decisions I made are even right. 

I doubt whether the bets I have placed on the economy would turn out my way. 

I doubt that readers would be pleased by this post.


  1. Interesting post. I don't really have any inputs except that I agree Chinese like to compare, compare and compare and love face/ai4 mian4 zi3, but I'm not too sure as well if this is an intrinsically Chinese trait or if it's more general "human nature" that transcends ethnic boundaries. Will need folks from other ethnic groups to chime in and I hope we can hear from such people.

  2. Hi Christopher,

    I been working with Ang Mohs so many from different countries for many years and also travel to China a lot.

    Personal opinion. Maybe sometimes is not ethnic trait, it's city people or outside city people and how well people portray themselves.

    In general chinese like to make comparison relating to "wealth". Most ang moh in city do compare wealth but they do not put it so explicitly. But if u r Ang moh in Norway, then wealth is nothing bcos they seriously do not need it to be happy bcos of their nature n beautiful environment. Ang moh r better in hiding their emotions than Chinese.

    But when it comes to making critical decisions, Chinese involve emotions. Which can sometimes be a good thing. I can say Chinese as we progress, it changed a lot. Even in China, those more educated (not nec rich) r starting to appreciate life more than just wealth.. Seen n experience it personally!

    Jus my two cents thought.

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