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Living Well Within the Politics of Crisis: Lessons from the Sages of our Past: Confucius

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AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Part 3: Confucius

The world is a tumultuous place. 

Challenges, crises, temptations—the tough times are inevitable.  They are baked into the cake of this thing we call “life.”

Regrettably, given the Politics of Crisis that has been the Western world’s default politics for the last five centuries or so since the rise of nation-states, along with the linear, Newtonian conception of “event-causation” to which it’s wedded, the movers and shakers of public opinion in the Government-Academia-Media-Entertainment complex—what we may call, “The Big GAME”—have been stupendously successful at convincing American citizens that they are at the mercy of external events until and unless others, i.e. politicians, act on their behalf (“the COVID Pandemic” is the most recent illustration of this enterprise).

Yet the wisest of men from all over the world and down through millennia have known better. They have known, in other words, that human beings have within themselves the power, the freedom, to choose their own destinies.  They have known that, ultimately, it is not events or circumstances that define us, but our choices in response to those circumstances.     

For example, it is most emphatically not some “pandemic” that has visited incalculable economic, professional, social, communal, familial, and psychological damage upon hundreds of millions, probably billions, of men, women, and children in America and throughout the world over the span of this last year.   It is, rather, the decisions of politicians, media elites, bureaucrats, and untold numbers of citizens who were all too eager to imbibe the fear-mongering, under the pretext of combatting “the pandemic,” that account for the misery suffered by countless others (including and particularly the poorest and most vulnerable on the planet).    

There’s all sorts of ways to which people could’ve chosen to respond to COVID (or any other virus or event).  Some of us suggested responses that were more humane, constitutional, consistent with liberty, and, overall, more conducive to the flourishing of individuals, communities, and whole societies.  We were, however, charged with being “selfish” and “COVID-deniers.”  

The point here is that the members of wiser generations and cultures knew that it is we who have the power to fashion the lives that we choose to fashion—irrespective of circumstances. The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius is one instructive figure to whom we can turn for guidance.

Viruses, illnesses, wars, pestilence, and every manner of other disaster will always be with us while we are here on Earth.  This Confucius knew.  Nevertheless: 

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” 

The beauty is there, even in the darkest of times.   We need only commit to discern it. 

As for, not merely surviving those dark times, but prevailing over them, it “does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”  

Also: “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

Confucius imparted too many pearls of wisdom to recount here.  Uniting them, though, is the presupposition that, regardless of life’s challenges, individual human beings can and must choose wisely in how they will reply to them.   Below are some quotations of Confucius’s that drive home this point:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

“Wherever you go, go with all of your heart.” 

“To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.”

“Respect others, and others will respect you.”

“Attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil that is in others.”

“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”

“The man of wisdom is never of two minds; the man of benevolence never worries; the man of courage is never afraid.” 

“The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?”

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor the man perfected without trials.”  

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”

Especially relevant to, not just our times, but all times, is this forceful reminder of Confucius’s: 

“People with virtue must speak out,” but “people who speak are not all virtuous.”

And this, too, assumes new significance in light of the oppressive COVID restrictions imposed by hypocritical politicians who routinely and flagrantly violate their own “Social Distancing” protocols:

“The demands that good people make are upon themselves.   Those that bad people make are upon others.”

All of these insights of Confucius’s express his belief in the categorical centrality to the good life of self-reliance, self-empowerment.   This belief finds unequivocal expression in the following remark of his:

“Your life is what your thoughts make it.”   

Confucius, this ancient Chinese sage, for all of his differences with the proponents of the world’s great wisdom traditions, is of one mind with them when it comes to the necessity of self-empowerment.  

As this brief look at China’s most enduring philosopher should make clear, the modern Western world’s deterministic Politics of Crisis, which has reached a fever pitch in 2020 with the creation of the COVID era, is something that Confucius would have repudiated in no uncertain terms.

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