Confucian wisdom on social media

Elderly Beijing man in Mao suit
Beijing man in contemplation

Anyone anxious about their social media presence can take comfort in the wise words of Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Worry not that no one knows you; seek to be worth knowing.”

Of course, it was alright for Confucius. He was writing in 500 BCE at a time when blogging would have involved making ink from pine soot and ground horns before laboriously brushing inspiring ideas onto thin bamboo strips. They’d have to be worth it. The really important stuff was carved onto vast stone columns; a communication method that would seriously chip away at the number of daily mundanities currently recorded by humankind.

This compelling fascination with living out our brilliant lives in public, and adding a glossy finish to everything, must have deep roots, for Confucius also remarked: “We take greater pains to persuade others that we are happy than in endeavoring to think so ourselves.”

It’s an endlessly perplexing business, chiseling away online in the hope of being noticed. Sharing our best side; hiding our bad times. What’s too little? What’s too much? How do we avoid sounding pompous? or flippant? or worse still, desperate? How can we make sure we are, in Confucius’ words, ‘worth knowing’? And why do we need so many friends when we rarely have time to talk to the ones who stay nearby?

Having lived in the factory-belt area of southern China; seeing elderly people sitting amidst massive piles of jeans on the street, squinting as they stitched details on pockets, I knew I wanted my business to be fiercely ethical and fervently kind. But that alone doesn’t make me worth knowing. It probably makes me a bit annoying, if anything. And it certainly doesn’t tell me how to succeed at it.

Luckily, Confucius also left a bit of a hint in another of his famous tweets. In it he identified five qualities to aim for…all obvious, but often undervalued.

He said: “If you are courteous, you will not be disrespected;
If you are generous, you will gain everything.
If you are honest, people will rely on you.
If you are persistent you will get results.
If you are kind, you can employ people.”

Does this translate to the modern world? Not in the minds of any of us who’ve worked for less than kind bosses or those many who slog away to no avail. But it clearly worked for Confucius, who has, after all, ended up spawning an entire philosophical movement with followers in numbers we can only dream of.

A word of caution, however, before you rush to download the entire Confucian tome, The Analects. In what was obviously the equivalent of a tired rant after several goblets of rice wine,  the great man is also supposed to have declared:  “A man without a mustache is a man without a soul.”  Thank goodness our modern musings are no longer set in stone.

Happy New Year, on and offline.

Sundibanks, Shetland





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