Thursday, September 15, 2016

473. A Gentleman Should Use His Talents to Serve the Community

Alexis de Tocqueville was famously struck by the American way of joining together to help the community. This communal tradition of the United States was promoted by the founders in the founding era. Confucian moral philosophy helped the founders nurture a tradition of community service.  

Confucius taught rulers to be virtuous and formulated a series of ethical principles for leaders of the state. Therefore, a very important part of Confucianism is personal and virtuous cultivation. Confucius requested leaders to be gentlemen who should always claim moral leadership to exercise proper influences in order to put society in good order. Following Confucius moral principles, in traditional Chinese society gentlemen with good virtue always served the community with their talents and resources. They devoted their attention to local welfare institutions, such as educational promotion. According to Confucius, Gentlemen “always claimed moral leadership to exercise proper influences was necessary to put the country in good order.” They “devoted attention to local welfare institutions,” such as educational promotion. They “printed their rhymed quotations for effective communications to the less educated as rhymes were easy for them to learn.”

From Benjamin Franklin we find all of the characteristics of a gentleman, as required by Confucius. Franklin accumulated wealth in his middle age. Then, he gradually retired from business. He “remade himself” as “a public-spirited gentleman.”  He donated his time and energy to public affairs and welfare. During the period from the 1730s to the 1740s, Franklin helped to found some cultural and philanthropic institutions, including the Library Company, the American PhilosophicalSociety, the Public Academy of Philadelphia (the University of Pennsylvania)and a network of volunteer fire companies. In his popular weekly newspaper, Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin often published some rhymed quotations for his readers. Most impressively, in 1737, he published Confucius moral works in the same newspaper.  

Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to America’s communal tradition has become a valuable legacy. His hard work had helped produce the phenomenon discovered by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1803 Americans were very good at “subordinating their individualism to voluntary groups of one type or another." The later history tells that Franklin’s service to the community has become a particular United States tradition.

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