Sunday, September 14, 2008


The Master said: "When the Way prevails in the state, speak and act with perilous high-mindedness; when the Way does not prevail, act with perilous high-mindedness but speak with self-effacing diffidence."
-Confucius, The Analects, XIV:3

I find this passage fascinating. Is Confucius suggesting, with the term "self-effacing diffidence", that we should essentially 'drop out' of public discussions when truth does not prevail in the state? Should we continue to act, but avoid speaking? I think there is a certain logic to this- one of Confucius's frequently-made points is that we shape the behavior of others by acting in an upright way; not through edicts or legislation. But, would it be worth entering into public discussion in the ideal state, which he says will come after something like a hundred years of good rule? And do we "speak with self-effacing diffidence" now (essentially) to avoid getting caught up in the discussions of a world without truth, or just to stay out of trouble?

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