Ask most people in the western world about the “Seven Deadly Sins” and they will probably be able to name quite a few of them. Even young children might be able to tell you about the “don’ts” of the Cardinal sins, but could they and the adults in their lives give you the antithesis of the “don’ts” . . . a list of “do’s”?
Where there is “lust” there might be “chaste”.
Where there is “gluttony” there might be “abstinence”.
Where there is “greed” there might be “generosity”.
Where there is “sloth” there might be “action”.
Where there is “wrath” there might be “calmness”.
Where there is “envy” there might be “compassion”.
Where there is “pride” there might be “humility”.
So why don’t we have a more positive list of virtuous ways in our society? Why do we have to think of the negative in order to get to the positive? Why can’t we be more direct in what we want from our fellow human beings in order to create the sort of society and relationships that are conducive to peaceful, harmonious living?
We want lovingkindness, peace, respect, consideration, honesty and understanding in our world. So where is the definitive list of “do’s” or shared virtues that we can strive to abide by?
The sense of spiritual and emotional wellbeing derived from adhering to positive values in a relationship of any kind is empowering. If we all had “Seven Beneficial Strengths” instead of seven reminders of the worst that humanity can offer, then we might have a better chance of developing, achieving and maintaining better relationships, a better society and better human beings.
There are hundreds of virtues and values, and it is almost impossible to agree on a set of seven that encompasses the main aspirations for a harmonious life, but we have to start somewhere and we have to consider how we can get our children and young people to think of the positive action rather than the negative.
Let’s face it, the “Seven Deadly Sins” is a deficit model. We need something more plentiful and aspirational.
Of course, in the Eastern hemisphere, this has already been done. Children, young people and adults in the East have a list of positive virtues. In many of the Eastern religions and philosophies there is a clear list of expectations of good, and it is one such list that we would like to commend to others today.
The Bushido is a list of seven virtues. It originated from the Samurai where an “ethical” code of principles were followed by the Samurai, and it’s still known and adhered to in China, Japan and Korea today. People lived and died by this code, ensuring that their every action was mindful of the principles of life.
It was and is the Way.
Samurai, in the west, has bad press! The warrior is seen as an aggressor, but in reality there was never any need for aggression if everyone had been able to consider and live by the seven principles they offered.
Whatever the positives and negatives of the Samurai, the fact that they have this list of virtues is virtuous in its own right, and it is these seven virtues that we want to consider today.
We suggest that these are seven virtues that we should consider each day as we go about our business. We should be mindful of the way we treat people and the effects of negative and selfish action on those people we care about most. We should consider demonstrating positivity and being proactive in virtuous behaviour rather than being reactive to lack of consideration. More than that, we should try to train ourselves through meditation and action to be reactive with these seven virtues in mind, thinking deeply about the needs of others as well as ourselves.
We would welcome any thoughts on these virtues and our interpretation and desire to bring them to the forefront of thought for all in the West as much as those in the East who, in the main, demonstrate their thinking, feeling and imagination through these important principles for considerate living.
We look forward to a time when you can walk into any school in any country and all the people within would be able to describe and demonstrate an understanding of these seven guiding principles of positive living.
Furthermore, through our commitment to learning, we would like to consider how these virtues can be an implicit and explicit part of any curriculum, be it in a school setting or not.
It is to this end that we would like to put our three dimensions of intelligences take on this eastern way and how we can demonstrate its relevance to all.
This may not be a conclusive list of positives, but it’s certainly a starting point and one that has worked as a guiding principle in Eastern civilisations for thousands of years.
Below is an abridged version of what we are currently developing as an e-book that should be downloadable from our website in the future.
The Bushido: Seven Ways of the Samurai
1. Right Action
“Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.”
Tryon Edwards (1809-1894, American Theologian)
What is the “right action” in any given situation? Is the “right action” always connected to our own needs or do we sometimes have to put the needs and the rights of others before our own selfish pursuits? The right action has to be something that the majority would see as the correct course of conduct, though this majority view isn’t set in stone. Society and their general values can and should change. In many countries, there once was a view that the “right action” for murder, for instance, was the death penalty. Times have changed in most western civilisations to conclude that this isn’t the “right action” any longer.
By giving people the opportunity to collectively consider and agree on the right course of action, we have the possibility of creating a better society, where people feel they have a say in its governance and the attitudes developed. Right action on a more personal level means that we know, understand and act in a way that is considerate and mindful of ourselves and others. It is a balance of personal and social intelligences, and through “right action” we find an equilibrium and peacefulness that we have acted with total regard for collective wellbeing.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ”
Nelson Mandela (1918 – , South African Politican and Anti-Apartheid Activist)
Sometimes one needs courage to take the “right action” especially if it feels like a personal sacrifice, and there are times when the right action means sacrificing the desires of others. It takes courage to stick to our guiding principles when the laws and values of others don’t seem right or fair. Injustice is too prevalent in our society, and the courage to tackle this for the good of the majority is indeed right, even though it sometimes feels that the world is against you. Striving for good takes courage, be it on a personal or societal level. Using your physical and metaphysical intelligences to do so is important.
Sometimes, we don’t have the courage to act on our instincts. Sometimes we have to measure our thoughts in order to act courageously.
And if you are thinking that “courage” is a difficult concept, then perhaps this can be altered to “strength”. We all need strength in our lives; strength of purpose, strength of knowing who we are, strength of acting in accordance with our beliefs, our needs and our rights.
“To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.”
Adam Smith (1723 – 1790, Scottish Social Philosopher)
Benevolence is a vital component to living harmoniously. We need to give to others in order to find our true selves. This is a common trait of most global religions and philosophies. Learning how to be benevolent, particularly when you don’t feel much empathy towards a certain person or certain situation, is difficult. Yet in order for us to have a greater understanding of ourselves and others we need to develop a benevolent attitude. We need to understand empathy and act accordingly. It’s not good enough to merely sympathise. We have to do something.
An altruistic way of life is something that many of us find hard. What about “me”? What about doing the things that “I” want to do? We need a balance between self-interest and selflessness. The person who always chooses the latter can sometimes lose themselves in their benevolence.
But what of the child who refuses to share the toys in the playground? What of the person who doesn’t care for the suffering of others? What of the government that doesn’t have benevolence at the core of its decision making? We need to tackle these situations. We need to promote lovingkindness.
“Only those who respect the personality of others can be of real use to them.”
Albert Schweitzer (1875 -1965, German and French theologian)
Anyone who has visited places like Japan will be struck immediately by the politeness and respect afforded to strangers in the street. We’ve reported before about the incredible politeness of people we came across in Japan, who didn’t merely point to our destination but physically took themselves out of their way in their busy lives to help us on our way.
Respecting others is essential to positive living. Respecting the needs of others is one thing but true respect is about understanding who another human being is – flaws and all, and then responding respectfully in spite of any negatives that may be encountered. That’s not to say we should ignore inappropriate behaviour but we should consider the background as to why it’s happening.
General courtesy is an appropriate course of action. So often we read in the newspapers that teachers feel there’s a lack of respect in schools and that this is a major stumbling block to learning. Respect is a two-way action, and demonstrating respect for others can indeed have it returned to you two-fold. A simple “please” and “thank you” instilled in our young is a step in the right direction but how can they learn about respect if we are constantly bickering at one another, or not listening attentively or not acting with an understanding and appreciation of other peoples’ opinions?
The only way we are going to change the opinions of those we disagree with is by appreciating and understanding and respecting their views. It is only then that dialogue and possible change can take place.
“Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with the people the same happiness.”
Kahlil Gibran (1883 -1931, Lebanese/American writer)
Is a little white lie ever acceptable? Is deceit necessary as a means of protecting our rights and our choices? What do we want to impart to our children about being truthful and honest at all times?
In reality, it’s very difficult to be completely open, honest and truthful with the people we love. Sometimes, we even shield them from the truth as a protective and considerate mechanism, and in many ways there is nothing wrong with that.
Yet for peace of mind for all, truth-telling has to be a virtue that we aspire to.
Politicians are often accused of being less than honest. They sometimes warp the truth with clever convoluted terminology that is supposed to trick us into thinking that they’re saying one thing, when in reality they’re not admitting to or agreeing to anything.
If we are ever going to live harmoniously, we need to encourage truthfulness and honesty, and with this comes real consideration. Our children and young people are entitled to this too, and they need to learn how to be honest.
The relief of honesty is extremely conducive to our wellbeing. A lack of honesty causes hurdles in our relationships that are seemingly unbreachable. Being honest and being mindful of what that honesty can bring is an essential part of living well.
“Act well your part. There the honour lies.”
Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744, English Poet)
Honour is an interesting virtue. The Samurai lived and died by this virtue; literally. If they felt that they had been dishonourable, the ultimate sacrifice might be made, and we are certainly not advocating that.
Honouring ourselves and honouring others is also about balance. We need to be mindful of this.
Yet honour is not about placing someone on a pedestal and leaving them there in glorious, untouchable deference. We can hold people in high esteem and it is right to honour them accordingly with consideration and respect but we shouldn’t go so far as to make icons out of these people.
Honour is also about honouring yourself, and particularly with children, we tend to forget to remind themselves about what great human beings they are. We forget to develop and nurture their ‘elements’ and honour the fact that they are all individuals. Our current curriculum in schools in this country rarely honours people as individuals.
We need to consider honour more reflectively and not see it as deference. We need to embrace and welcome honour.
“Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968, American Civil Rights Leader)
Where are we in life without loyalty? Not the sort of lap-dog loyalty that can be draining and restraining but a loyalty to our fellow human beings generally. We can be loyal to a cause too. Once more, we don’t want our loyalty to subsume ourselves and make us feel that we have an obligation to others that is driven by loyalty versus our own desires. Rather we want to embrace our own desires within the loyalty that we offer to others.
How often do we hear of people being loyal to a political party or a football team or a family or a partner? What does this actually mean? Does it mean that we can turn a blind eye to all that is less than positive if they misbehave – just because we need to show loyalty?
Of course not.
Being loyal in such situations requires something quite different. The loyalty to another may come through telling them that their actions aren’t quite right or that their impartiality needs to be redirected, with decisions being made. Loyalty is not and never should be absolute support.
Yet, loyalty is important, and building a societal loyalty based on shared values is something that we should all consider.
These virtues are a starting point. We would appreciate feedback from our readers and will also be writing another blog over the next couple of weeks that has a child-friendly version of the Bushido.
“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous”
– Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895, American social reformer)
Balance is important and so is change. Once a list of virtues is decided upon, it doesn’t mean that everything is set in stone. Such action causes stalemates and compliance rather than intelligent thought and reflection.
The ability to embrace change is also a virtue.
“Only the wisest and the stupidest of men never change” – Confucius (551-479BC, Chinese Philosopher)
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I agree that we too often focus on the negatives or opposite of virtues in our western cultural admonitions. Thank you for sharing the Bushido from the Samurai. This is the first that I’ve heard of these ideas and guidelines, and am impressed with them. Karen
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Thank you Sharon. As ever we appreciate your thoughtful responses. Feel free to share with others. Of course, it’s easy to suggest these ideas but we need people to learn how to do it! We’re ready and willing to put theory into action. It’s been wonderful this week to do such training with a group of people as part of a return to work training programme. CB
What an excellent post. My heart yearns that these are precisely the virtues and attributes that should be taught in schools and in our homes. Thank you for depth of thought put into this. Sharon