An insight from Chinese philosophy

Chinese philosophers had a very different outlook on life than their Western counterparts. Professor of Chinese history Michael Puett at Harvard University in the US has collected surprising insights that we can all apply to our everyday lives. Below, we share one of them.

Establish rituals (Confucius)
The great thing about Confucius (551-471 BC) is that he felt we could break patterns by changing little things in our everyday lives. For the most part, our lives consist of reactions to situations, other people and our emotions and those of the people around us. This can lead to conflicts, and often we think afterward that we could have responded differently. According to Confucius, we can break this pattern through rituals, little habits in our daily live that ensure that we are kind, polite and attentive to others.

Saying “good morning”, for example, greeting a co-worker in spite of a conflict with them or allowing someone to get onto the train ahead of you. This creates space; you are no longer plaything for your emotions, but you learn to deal with them. Compare this to how children learn to cope with situations and emotions in a playful manner an by playing make-believe.

Unfortunately, we have outgrown this playful approach because we think that we always have to be genuine and authentic. Confucius said that rituals ensure that we become a different person for a short period of time. This gives us the opportunity to grow, break patterns and find other ways to get along with one another.

  • You can read more about Chinese philosophy in Issue 20.

Text Sjoukje van de Kolk