Once when a department store put a want ad in the newspapers for an administrator, within three days eighty-some people showed up, virtually all of them bringing a letter of recommendation with them. After interviewing all of them, the manager finally hired a young man who had not brought a letter. When others expressed their surprise, the manager explained, "Everyone else brought only one letter of recommendation, but this young man brought three letters. When he walked into my office, he gently shut the door behind him; this was a letter describing his cautiousness. During his conversation with me, his voice was clear and his responses were logical; that was a letter telling me about his intelligence. When an older person came into my office, he quickly stood up; that was a letter telling me about his courteousness. His three letters of recommendation revealed themselves in his behavior; everyone else's letters were merely written on paper."
From this story, we can see that developing the habit of respecting our elders and speaking in a way that is neither lowly nor overbearing will ensure our success in dealing with people and matters. People are social creatures who cannot live in total isolation. We must seriously learn how to dwell in harmony with people in order to develop our own potentials so we can help the common good. This is the lesson of a lifetime, and the sooner and the more thoroughly we learn it, the smoother our life will be. Hence, early childhood education should stress filial
piety and brotherhood first, teaching children to respect their parents. When they grow up and go out into the society, they will naturally be courteous and well-mannered; that is the first step in relating successfully to other people.
Some people may say, "In doing great deeds, one should not be hampered by fine details, why should we be so rigid?" This is only saying that we don't always have to be too attached to minor points of etiquette; it doesn't mean we can be disrespectful to our teachers and elders in our minds. Respect should come from the heart. However, everyone's outlook and standard is different, so sometimes we run into problems. Children of today are very liberal in their outlook and very good at arguing their own views. If you tell them to respect their teachers and elders, they might respond by telling you certain things about their teacher or elder, implying that the person is not worth respecting. They often ask you, "If you ask me to show respect, aren't you just asking me to put on a false front? It's not for real." Many parents are left speechless; they don't know how to reply.
As parents, teachers, and elders, not only should we always reflect upon ourselves and improve our own character and conduct, we should try to teach children the correct way of thinking, which is that we should bring forth heartfelt respect for three kinds of people: (1) those who are more virtuous than we are, (2) those who are older than we are, and (3) those who have higher position than we do.
I think probably everyone will agree that the first kind of person deserves respect. But we should also respect the latter two kinds of people regardless of their character. Why? There's a proverb, "The trials and tribulations take up 80 or 90 percent of our life." You could say there's more suffering than joy, more disasters than peace. If you think about how long our elders have struggled to be able to survive and be elders, wouldn't you say they are worthy of respect? Think about how much hard work teachers and high officials have put in to get where they are now. Don't they deserve our respect? What's more, everyone will get a turn to be honored as an elder. Therefore, whatever you want to harvest, you first have to plant. If you explain it to your children like this, they will gradually understand and start to respect elders and worthy ones from their heart. You should never force children into putting on a false show of courtesy and turning into hypocrites. On the other hand, don't be so lenient with then that they turn into wild kids with no sense of appreciation for all they have received.
Reverence for elders and veneration for virtuous ones has always been a wholesome tradition in China. The Zhou Dynasty rite of "toasting," taken from the custom of the rural villagers, served to strengthen family bonds and neighborly harmony, and to allow young people to practice respecting their elders. Furthermore, in ancient times the Chinese people treated their teachers like honored guests. When sitting, the host would sit on the east side and invite the teacher to sit on the west side facing him. Thus the teacher came to have the honorific title "West-Seated One" or "Western Guest." Even the nobility followed these rules of etiquette for respecting teachers. Many emperors and princes, when they were living as civilians, would treat their teachers with the respect of a disciple, and would not let the teacher bow to them.
The story of how "Cheng's students stood while it snowed" is a wonderful example of respect for one's teacher.
It goes like this: Cheng Yi and Cheng Hao were two brothers in the Song Dynasty who were both renowned Confucian scholars with many disciples. The elder brother Cheng Hao was jovial and quick-witted. People praised him and said that listening to his lectures was like "sitting in the spring breeze for three months." His younger brother, Cheng Yi, was solemn and serious, and his students held him in respect and awe. Once when two of his students were attending upon him, Cheng Yi suddenly fell a sleep. Since he had not bidden them to leave, the two students dared not do so, but respectfully continued to stand on either side of their teacher. When he woke up, the students took their leave and discovered that the snow outside the door was already knee-deep. This story has been passed down to later generations as an illustration of respect for a stern teacher. Although we need not rigidly hol to old-fashioned rules of etiquette in modern society, the attitude of sincere respect is something that never changes with time.