Monday, September 21, 2009

Fillial Piety

Today I was forced to reflect upon the nature of fillial piety.

Question: should parents receive fillial piety as a privilege, or an entitlement?

The Confucian texts on fillial piety maintain that it is one of the highest virtues. According to the texts, by being pious to one's parents, one also learns to be respectful and loving towards others, therefore becoming a better person.

But where does one find the motivation to be pious?

Two avenues become apparent. One is love. Imagine a situation where a parent, or grandparent, has played a vital and involving role in bringing up a child. Naturally, the child would be close to that elder, and learn to love and care for that elder in time.

The other is obligatory. A child would come to recognize all the pressures and expectations compelling him to be pious, and would then choose to either give in to those influences or resist them.

We don't really like to discuss the latter obligation. There are too many questions that we can't answer satisfactorily, thorns in the flesh we cannot expel easily. Questions like, are children expected to be fillial to parents who abuse them? Or, are children obligated to love grandparents they have never really known?

If I were to put on a government man's cap, I would say, yes. Yes because it is the best way to order society. Someone has to bear the burden of taking care of the old, and while the government can share some of that burden, the onus should definitely remain on the children.

That doesn't answer the manifold questions, however. If we assume that fillial piety is not meant to be blind, that there has to be some degree of... reciprocity for it to mean something, then what do we do about the people who, frankly, do not deserve it?

Of course, there is a distinction we must be aware of. There are those who are not pious because they are selfish people who have received but who do not want to give. Those we can ignore for this discussion. I'm thinking of those who have not received such love and concern from their elders, and are yet expected to be pious.

How do you tell the person who has never been shown love and concern from their parents that, hey, you should love and care for them regardless? That you might not know the stranger standing before you, but the blood ties dictate that you show fillial piety?

I think that you can't. The more I dwell on the subject, the more it seems that fillial piety has to be earned.

No comments: