STEPHEN LEE – A Fellow Founding Member of The 1990 Institute – always there when Billy needs input in critical thinking .
Combination of words create mental images in our mind, often leading to emotion or tension in this case. Our reaction to these images may be action or more thoughts.
Among Bill’s friends, I am probably most unqualified to write about friendship, loyalty, or righteousness. On the other hand, because these words are not innate to me, encountering them together has stirred anew my thinking and led my mind to explore their relevance to me in the current global situation. That settled the title of this essay.
Almost immediately, the word polarization came up, and in no time, its opposite concept in which I have always believed, unity in diversity, popped into my consciousness. It is thus only natural that I choose these two concepts as the subtitle.
Friendship is easy when no substantial gain or loss are involved. 君子之交淡如水 (Gentlemen’s friendship is bland as water.) There are probably numerous Chinese sayings about friendship. That this one surged to my mind without effort tells me why I have had few friends in my life. It also explains why loyalty is not high in my list of values.
Loyalty is towards a person or an ideal. It implies constancy of motivation and actions. It may even require or at least encourage unquestioning. To me, it is danger and a potential barrier against objectivity and its non-aligned values, such as equality for all, trade-off with other alternative or competing values.
Righteousness is measured according to some standard. How are standards set? Who set them? Are they universally accepted? What are the consequences of not following the standards of righteousness agreed by the majority of a community? Is freedom of belief higher than the community’s standards of righteousness? What are the consequences on an individual upon breaking the community’s standards of righteousness? What are the rewards for upholding or advancing such standards? Are they socio-religious consequences or legal consequences? Let me stop our thoughts here, lest we detour away from the subtitle.
If we label Loyalty and Righteousness as “virtues”, then we affirm (at least subconsciously) that they have polarities. Loyal vs disloyal. Righteous vs unrighteous. If we become convinced that one direction is good and the opposite direction is evil, we may succumb to polarization. On a more inclusive consideration of other ideals and effects, for example, equality, respect, love and forgiveness, etc., then we can find our personal equilibrium.
Polarization can turn friends into enemies in the extreme, or at least strangers if one is more charitable. In the former outcome, cohesiveness with like-minded friends is the right and loyal thing to do. In the latter case, diversity of values can be tolerated but not advocated. Unity in both cases is out of the question.
Sadly, this is a significant and current mentality of the world. Its manifestation in the media is most vocal and its effects on the global and personal relationships are alarming.
How can unity be regained while retaining diversity? Or how can polarization be reversed?
I have a mental aid that dawned on me recently. Remember the combination of three keys to perform a Reboot or Reset of the old personal computer?
Control + Alternate + Delete.
Before I explain it, let me quote a short passage from one Confucian classic, “The Doctrine of the Mean 中庸”:
“While there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, or joy, the mind may be said to be in the state of Equilibrium. When those feelings have been stirred, and they act in their due degree, there ensues what may be called the state of Harmony. This Equilibrium is the great root from which grow all the human actings in the world, and this Harmony is the universal path which they all should pursue.”
Back in the 1960’s growing up in Hong Kong, this Confucian classic did not resonate with me. Modernization meant Westernization. The middle ground just seemed compromise, mediocrity, static and conservative. Now, seventy two years old, I learned that Confucius had anticipated such criticisms.
“The Master said, “I know how it is that the path of the Mean is not walked in:-The knowing go beyond it, and the stupid do not come up to it. I know how it is that the path of the Mean is not understood:-The men of talents and virtue go beyond it, and the worthless do not come up to it.”
In thirty years, the good will between US and China has changed substantially. If not turned 180 degrees, it must be at least 90 degrees? Why and how can it be reversed?
Obviously this is a very complex and difficult subject to discuss, explain and prescribe a way out. Instead, I would start from the Reset button and describe how a simple mental reminder working on each and every one of us may help change the global direction. I wrote the following a few months ago.
With polarization having “semi permanently” moved us apart, causing us to fixate our mental and spiritual base points away from the common center we used to share, in the silence of our souls, we can examine our shifted base points, and remember that the key to being centered and balanced is to hit the RESET button when we are acting or reacting from our current polarized base points.
The three RESET steps are:
Control our emotions and reflex triggered by the encounter.
Consider Alternate thoughts and possible explanations, assessments and reactions triggered by the encounter. Instead of reacting from our own biased set point, reflect on whether the other side has a valid point. Or that the other side did not really mean what was said. Or that the other side had no bad intention. Or that the other side was under emotional duress. Recall also how we have behaved or said things we did not really mean and hurt others. Remind ourselves that we have an alternative choice on our reaction, that of seeking a balance between our different set points. Recall the past equilibrium, especially when we were loving and hopeful then.
Delete whatever that keeps us fixated in our momentary “conviction”. In the silence and emptiness of emotion, we reflect on our personal values and lessons we have learned and will endeavour to learn.
Let it be Unity in Diversity.
Bill knows that my better half can provide a complementary perspective to my writing. After receiving her feedback, I realized that my essay has been cold and without the essence of Friendship. Emotions and warm feelings have their attraction to all human beings.
So I will bring us back to the motivation which can attract even polarized people towards one another.
What common values do all people share?
Happiness is probably the most common answer I hear from friends when I ask them their purpose of life.
What makes people happy? Being with loved ones is again probably the most common answer. For the last two to three months, sheltered at home, have we reflected on our lives and re-affirmed what make us happy and motivated to go on?
Are there individuals among our friends with whom we disagree with on some issues? Surely there are. Do we still count them as our friends? Do we wish them good health and happiness? Surely we do.
That still little voice in our hearts is what will bring us all back together!