Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Would you like some more good luck in your life?
The Duke of Ai did, and he went to Confucius to ask for advice. I'm not a superstitious person, but I really appreciate how logically Confucius explained five unlucky omens. By flipping these five omens around, we get five lucky omens. Below is the story:
One time, the Duke of Ai asked Confucius, "I heard it is unlucky to build an additional house to the east of my existing house. Is this believable?"
Confucius replied, "There are five unlucky omens, but building an additional house to the east is not one of them.
Harming others for one's own gain is bad luck for oneself.
Neglecting elders and only caring about children is bad luck for the family.
Using incapable people instead of virtuous and wise people in government is bad luck for the country.
Elders not teaching youth and youth not learning from elders is bad luck for society.
Virtuous sages going into hiding while ignorant and unvirtuous people grab power is bad luck for the world.
In summary, those are the five types of bad luck, and building an additional house to the east is not one of them."
(Source: The School Sayings of Confucius)
As someone who values logic, I found this dialogue to be quite entertaining and enlightening at the same time! I also want to take a moment to just appreciate how great of a teacher Confucius is. He didn't just say, "No, building an additional house to the east is not unlucky. Stop being so superstitious."
Instead, he seized the opportunity to explain to this Duke (essentially the king of a small country) how to bring good fortune to himself, his family, his country, and the world. That shows how broad-minded and benevolent Confucius is and how he is always trying to make the world a better place.
1: Harming others for one's own gain is bad luck for oneself.
An obvious example is unethical businesses who hurt their customers for quick short-term gain. In the long-term, the public finds out, and then the business will crash and burn.
On a more personal level, if we only care about our own benefit and ignore other people's needs, or even hurt them, then obviously no one will like us. If that happens, we will have lots of conflict in relationships and problems in our work, which is the manifestation of bad luck.
We naturally love people who are loving to us, and we naturally respect people who are respectful towards us. That's why Mencius said:
Therefore, we should always aim to treat others with love and respect.
2: Neglecting elders and only caring about children is bad luck for the family.
James Baldwin once said,
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
If the parents neglect the grandparents, then the children will neglect the parents when they become old. They learned this disrespectful behavior from the parents! Moreover, if the parents spoil the children and treat them like royalty, then the children will become entitled, lazy, and incompetent. They will become a big burden and pain to the family when they get older. Therefore, parents need to set a good role model by taking good care of the grandparents.
3: Using incapable people instead of virtuous and wise people in government is bad luck for the country.
Another time, the Duke of Ai asked Confucius about how to govern a country. He was probably expecting an answer related to governing systems and policies, but instead, Confucius replied:
Confucius further explained to Duke Ai that the key to attracting capable people is to first be a virtuous and capable person himself. Just like how children learn from their parents' example, followers will learn from a leader's example. Therefore, leaders need to cultivate a virtuous character to attract and employ good people.
4: Elders not teaching youth and youth not learning from elders is bad luck for society.
The term "elder" here does not necessarily mean someone who is older in age, but rather someone who has more wisdom and can give us good advice. The youth are the future of our society, so if elders do not teach them to be good, considerate, and virtuous people, then the future of society will be full of problems and conflict. The same is true if elders try to teach, but the youth don't listen.
Currently, "developed countries" have high divorce rates and youth crime rates, which is quite ironic. One major cause is the elders not emphasizing ethics education. On the contrary, political leaders and the media teach bad morality, such as selfishness instead of consideration, arrogance instead of humility, indulgence instead of discipline, and extravagance instead of frugality.
When we see this situation, it's no surprise that society is becoming more unstable. Hence, teaching our future youths good ethics and virtues is arguably the most important thing for society, and the first step is for ourselves to learn and role model good moral character.
5: Virtuous sages going into hiding while ignorant and unvirtuous people grab power is bad luck for the world.
Virtuous sages are people of great wisdom and compassion who teach countless numbers of people around the world. Examples famous sages in history include Confucius, Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, Socrates, and Epictetus. Their teachings have been passed down for thousands of years across the globe.
The core of all sage teachings is love and being a good person. Hence, without sages and their teachings in our world, humankind would have a lot more conflict and disasters. Since humans are also so smart, if they advance their technology and power to great amounts but lack morality, they could destroy the world.
In fact, that is already happening given how humankind is polluting the world, and so many countries have enough nuclear bombs to destroy the globe. Hence, we should do our best to promote sage teachings, first by learning and role modeling them ourselves, then by teaching others.
We can flip the five bad omens into five good omens:
Helping others selflessly
Loving and respecting elders
Employing capable and virtuous people
Elders teaching youth and youth learning eagerly
Letting sages and their teachings flourish
1: Helping Others Selflessly
Before I learned about Confucianism, my life was always about what I wanted and resolving my problems; me me me. Being only self-centered is actually quite stressful! Later, I learned that helping and serving others is the key to long-lasting happiness, so now I focus on that.
For example, recently I've been pretty busy, but there were some people that could really use my help. In the past, I would've thought I don't have time for that, I have too much stuff I need to do for myself. But now I value myself on how much I help others, so I found ways to help all of those people.
Since I sincerely wanted to help them, I was able to figure out a way to help each of them to the best of my ability without compromising my own health and needs. If I wasn't sincere about it, I wouldn't be able to figure out such a solution. After helping them all, I feel very joyous and learned a lot too. I vividly experienced how helping others is great luck for oneself.
I also remember when I first started treating others much better, they still didn't treat me well. I realized that it was a relationship debt that I hadn't fully paid off. Because I often criticized them and made them feel bad in the past, they still react negatively to me even though I'm trying to be positive now. But after I persisted for a while, they realized I had changed, and they changed to be more positive towards me too.
2: Loving and respecting elders
As a high school teacher, I've noticed that the students who really respect teachers always have parents that respect teachers and set a good role model. But the students who don't respect teachers usually have parents that either have a lot of conflict with their children, which role models arrogance and immaturity, or that neglect their children due to being too busy with work.
In order to teach my students to respect and appreciate elders, I end every class with everyone reciting some thank-you lines, which includes thanking our parents, teachers, and principal. Once in a while, I'll mention how hard our elders work to give us a good life and allow us to attend this great school.
3: Employing capable and virtuous people
Actually, this applies to any leader-follower relationship, not just government. In the past, I asked for permission from my principal to hire a student assistant to help me develop online courses. When I was choosing the assistant, I knew to focus on their respect and responsibility first and foremost as opposed to "resume things" like their grade or past experience. Skill and ability only matter AFTER the person has good virtues.
4: Elders teaching youth and youth learning eagerly
The primary reason I became a teacher is to teach the future generation to be better off than myself, and to do that, I need to proactively learn from the elder generations, which is what I currently spend my free time doing.
5: Letting sages and their teachings flourish
The best way to protect these teachings is to practice them in real life, get good results, and then share my own results with others. This article itself is an example. I am promoting Confucius's teachings, while also sharing my own experience, which will hopefully inspire you to also try his teachings, which then lets these good teachings spread throughout the world.
In conclusion, building an additional house to the east is not unlucky.
Just kidding, the real conclusion is that you should reflect on whether or not you have lucky or unlucky omens in your life! Grow the lucky omens and curb the unlucky ones!
Weekly Wisdom Newsletter #177
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