Confucius and Core Values -- Part 1

October 01, 2019

Did you know that last Saturday, September 28, was supposedly Confucius’s birthday? (His 2,569th according to conventional wisdom…although admittedly we do not have his long form birth certificate). Confucius was a teacher, and accordingly Teachers Day is celebrated on September 28 in Taiwan. Happily, our hardworking teachers were able to rest on Teachers Day this year (though I imagine many of them spent their weekend preparing lessons and looking at student work). Each year at this time, I try to send something useful to the community about Confucius, as he is such an important figure in Chinese and world culture.

This year the moment is particularly special. Last week I kicked off a series of communications about CAIS’s new strategic vision by talking about our newly evolved mission statement which reflects our community’s aspiration that our children grow up to lead lives of impact. Today I want to use the occasion of Confucius’s birthday to introduce our school’s Core Values. 

The connection here between Confucius and CAIS Core Values is not tenuous, but some context is probably useful. Confucius is one of those figures, like Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain or Albert Einstein, to whom pithy quotations are often attributed erroneously. The consequence is a kind of diminished importance—at least in the West—of an understanding of the core philosophy of this historically foundational figure. Add to this the tendency of westerners, especially Americans, to see China’s rapid economic development—manifested in things such as skyscrapers, restaurants, airports, department stores, and Chinese tourists everywhere—as evidence that China has become “Americanized.” For decades, China itself has had a complicated relationship with its own past, reacting to its own history with a combination of pride and suspicion, looking outward for political, economic, and cultural models. In fact, China may possess its own indigenous resources to address many of the issues of our contemporary world, and Confucius is a logical place to start. As I think about the Core Values of the Chinese American International School (which I’ve been doing for the better part of a year now), I feel proud and deeply satisfied that we can connect the dots between the Core Values that emerged from our long and inclusive process and some of the received wisdom from China’s first sage, Confucius. In other words, these are not American values or Chinese values, they are world values. They are our CAIS values. 

So, here are our newly articulated Core Values, accompanied by some of the things that Confucius—whose birthday we celebrate—had to say about these values: 

Core Value
How We Live It at CAIS Confucian Connection
好 奇 Curiosity 多问:我们想了解我们的世界和想象新的可 能性

Ask More: We wonder about our world and imagine new possibilities
学而时习之,不亦乐乎?

What a pleasure it is to learn and frequently practice what one has learned 

(from the Analects of Confucius《论语》)
包容 Inclusion 欢迎:我们支持和关心社区内外所有的人

Invite In: We champion and care for others within our community and beyond 
君子和而不同。 

A person of noble character is in harmony with others even though they may not see eye to eye. 

(from the Analects of Confucius《论语》) 
善良 Kindness

鼓励:我们用善意的语言和行动来互相支持

Build Up: We use kind words and actions to support each other and ourselves 
仁者人也。

To be kind is to be human. 

(from “The Mean”《中庸》)
毅力 Perseverance

继续努力:遇到困难时,我们会给自己打气并坚持下去 

Keep Trying: We push ourselves and stick with it when things get tough
譬如为善,未成一篑,止,吾止也。譬如平地,虽覆一篑,进,吾往也。 

In building up a hill, if I stop before adding the last basketful of earth, then I have stopped. In leveling the ground, even if I have only filled one basketful of earth, I am still moving forward and making progress. 

(from the Analects of Confucius《论语》)
勇气 Courage 勇敢:即使碰到困难,我们也能勇于尝试,负起责任

Be Brave: We take risks and responsibility, even when it is hard
见义不为无勇也。 

Seeing what is right but not doing it shows a lack of courage. 

(from the Analects of Confucius《论语》)

I know there are people who take a skeptical, even cynical view of the notion of institutional core values. I get that, and I also think that this skepticism can be a result of an organization paying mere lip service to values without a daily commitment to living them. I can say without reservation that your children’s teachers are enthusiastically committed to doing everything in their power to embed these values into the daily rhythm of the CAIS school day. In my next message I will talk about how we will do this.


In the meantime, Happy Birthday Confucius, and heartfelt gratitude to our CAIS teachers on Teachers Day.