In ancient times, people considered
proper manners in speaking and interacting with others an
important part of a child's education. In addition to being
respectful, we should speak with others in a forthright manner.
We should use a moderate tone of voice, and avoid speaking in a
sharp, high-pitched voice, which gives people the feeling that
we are showing off or arguing.
If we keep talking and laughing
and making a lot of noise, people will feel we are hyperactive.
On the other hand, if we always mumble and whisper, others will
feel contempt and impatience. We should not be looking here and
there as we speak, because that gives the impression of being
frivolous and scatter-brained. How much the less should we do
these things in the presence of our elders! If our elders are
hard of hearing, we should speak loudly, but not sharply.
addition to modulating the tone of voice, we ought to show the
proper courtesy. If we remain seated when our elders ask us a
question, they will be forced to bend down to speak to us. Not
only is that a poor posture for speaking, but it will tire them
out; that shows a lack of respect and understanding on our part.
In ancient China, when the moral culture was
well-developed, most people would regard their teachers and
elders as fondly as they would their own parents. Not only were
they eager to serve them, but they were delighted to see them.
When they had an appointment with an elder, they didn't want to
keep their elder waiting, so they would go quickly. Yet they
feared that if they took large strides or ran up to their elder,
they would startle him, so they approached with quick, light
steps. When it was time to leave, they could hardly bear to go,
but they didn't want to bother their elder too long, so they
departed with reluctant steps. They were that cautious in every
move they made, always observing courtesy and reason. They acted
from their hearts, but restrained themselves with propriety. How
could those who are shallow and rash understand this? How could
those who are phony or rigid learn this?
Our every gesture and move is a response
to and an expression of our inner feelings. If those responses
and expressions are excessive or deficient, they must be
restrained or corrected by the rules of propriety. Then our
actions will accord with courtesy as well as with reason.
Propriety is itself defined as reason. However, if we adhere too
rigidly to the rules of propriety and get caught up in the
external form, while lacking true feeling, we are even worse
than the person who has true feeling but isn't familiar with the
rules of propriety.
There are many strict households and schools
where parents and teachers expect children to behave like
well-brought-up "gentlemen and ladies." But if you observe these
children closely, you might find that many of them arc not only
phony, but selfish and self-centered. To teach children to
accord with courtesy as well as reason, we must start by
educating them in ethics. The earlier ethical education begins,
the better; what is more, parents and teachers have to be good
I remember an English film in which the setting was a private boarding
school. The protagonist was a righteous student who was going to
be expelled, because he had led a protest against the principal
for his harsh treatment of his roommate. The principal was a
morally upright gentleman who was known for strictness. He was
held in awe and respect by students and teachers alike. In the
end, it turns out that the roommate had been threatened by the
principal after he accidentally found out that the principal was
having an affair. In order to cover up his first mistake, the
principal made one mistake after another, leading to many
First the weak-willed roommate broke down under the
pressure and committed suicide. Then one of the teachers
resigned, because he refused to bear false witness against that
student, the way the other teachers and students had done. Then
the leaderless students started fighting among themselves, until
the school finally had to be blockaded. When the student read
the letter written by his dead roommate, all the students cried.
One of the lines in the letter said, “ Being a weak person, I
had continued living only because I wished to protect the person
I respected the most. Today I have bravely chosen to die in this
way, because my shattered idol is no longer worth protecting.”
Fellow parents and teachers! If we wish
to teach our children and students to be earnest and proper in
their interactions with others, let us be good models for them.
Let us first learn to follow the, “Rules for Being a Student.”