Why do parents teach them when social operation does not rely on benevolence and morality?

photo by Jelle de Gier on Unsplash

There was a Q&A on this channel before, and here is an excerpt:


Hello, channel host. I have been thinking about a question recently, but I haven't figured it out, so I would like to ask for advice from the seniors. Why are the rules of social operation never benevolence and morality, but people teach children kindness, consideration for others, and other virtues first? Thank you, channel host.


First of all, I am not a senior, haha. I am probably the same age as you, or a few years older, so there's no need to be so polite.

Secondly, let me try to explain my understanding: you can't figure it out because the rules of social operation and education are not the same thing. The roles and purposes are different, so trying to find common ground between them is probably useless.

But this thinking is meaningful. In a normal society, rules and morality complement each other, with rules providing rigid constraints and morality providing soft (conscious) constraints. If you get angry and hit someone, you will be punished, which is the constraint of the law; but you won't easily hit your parents, because you are first constrained by morality.

Can morality alone be used as a constraint? No. Because morality cannot provide specific constraints, it loses its meaning as a constraint. The operation of society requires constraints because without constraints, it would be chaotic and impossible to function. Therefore, something is needed to regulate each other's speech and behavior, to have rules and order.

Although history books say that most dynasties advocated Confucianism and advocated benevolence and virtue in governance, this is not entirely true. Since the Qin Dynasty, it has been a combination of external Confucianism and internal Legalism, with the empire mainly maintained through Legalist methods, supplemented by Confucian thought. The latter's biggest role is to unify ideology, give legitimacy to rulers, and maintain social stability (for example, Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty promulgated the "Six Edicts," which propagated ideological penetration into rural areas, as mentioned in a previous post).

Why do people educate their children mostly in terms of morality? In my understanding, they themselves have limited knowledge about rules, and there are other people to teach them, so they focus on the "visible" moral aspects. But the most important thing is that they hope their children can "be a good person"; in contrast, the government does not not want everyone to be a good person, but its fundamental goal is the "stable" operation of society.

I heard a lot of stories in the ward recently, including the type of story about the farmer and the snake.

For example, there's Old Yang, who used to work hard and had a lot of cultivated land. Among them, there was a piece of land right between the main road and the neighbor's land. In the past, the neighbor had to take a long detour every time they went to work the land. Out of sympathy, Old Yang lent a piece of land to the neighbor for their convenience. Over time, the neighbor didn't mention returning it, and even when the land was requisitioned for the construction of a highway a few years ago, the neighbor claimed it for themselves...

Another similar story is about Old Zhang. Many years ago, he left the mountains and rented out his family's fields to someone. When Old Zhang returned after several years, he found that his land had become smaller, missing a few parts (one acre is divided into ten parts). After various inquiries, he found out that the person who borrowed the land didn't take care of it. When the person next door was tilling the land, they occupied a small portion each year, and over the years, they took away several parts. He gathered people together to demand an explanation and eventually got his land back. When telling this story, he warned other patients that if they rented out land like him, they should be cautious and preferably dig several centimeters into the boundary, fill it with cement, and then backfill it with soil. In case of disputes in the future, they can dig up the land to identify the boundary.

Combined with a book I recently read, "The Art of Deception," written in the Ming Dynasty, which lists many stories of deception and robbery, I can't help but sigh at how dangerous society is and how difficult it is to guard against.

Thinking back to this Q&A on the channel before, I feel that my thinking was one-sided. It is true that society does not rely on benevolence and morality to operate. In addition to specific rules (laws), there are many gray areas. If parents do not explain the operating rules in these areas and only teach benevolence and morality, it is obviously dereliction of duty. The incompetence of many parents may not be a deliberate choice, but a passive one. On the one hand, they do not have the corresponding knowledge and experience, and on the other hand, they are influenced by the Confucian thought of "benevolence and morality," and thus overlook the reality of social operation.

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