Friday, May 13, 2016

Confucius Didn't Say That! True Beauty Edition

In the hustle and bustle of life, it's hard to appreciate the everyday beauty. There are many things in life that can trip you up: traffic, your kids throwing fits, stepping on legos, your computer going slow, your pet throws up on the carpet, your back hurts, losing your keys, stuff in the house that stops working....oh wait those are the things that trip me up.

Anyway, life in the first world is by all accounts, objectively awesome. However, sometimes we fail to see the (cue the cliches) the "silver linings" or the "bright side". So, it's good to get a reminder that life has a beautiful side to it. Which brings us to this edition of Confucius Didn't Say That! 

 "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." - Confucius 

Very true and very wise.

 Why didn't Confucius say this? 

As I have stated before, Confucius was rarely pithy. It's also not a typical concern of Confucius either. Confucius lived in a time of political upheaval. Those in the political realm were living in tumultuous times, while the peasants worked (as always) from sun-up to sun-down. Appreciating beauty was low on the list of what would be considered important to Confucius or even to most common people living in ancient China.  

Did Confucius ever speak about beauty?

The word "beauty" occurs* twice in the Analects, although it's used only once in a meaningful way:

The Master said: “I have never seen one who loves virtue as much as he loves beauty.”
 - Confucius in the Analects 9:18

Ironically enough, this is one of those pithy statements that Confucius actually said. It also happens to illustrate the polar opposite of the fake quote.  Beauty isn't underappreciated, it's over-appreciated.
Confucius is lamenting the fact that most humans care too much about beauty, while not caring as much about their virtue.  Even over 2,000 years later, this quote rings true. People are more interested in appearing beautiful than doing the right thing.

There's a similar thought about beauty and ren (often translated as humaneness) in book four of the Analects:

The Master said: “As for a neighborhood, it is its ren that makes it beautiful. If you choose to live in a place that lacks ren, how can you grow in wisdom?” 
- Confucius in the Analects 4:1

So, if Confucius didn't say it, who did?

This one is a mystery and my Google skills are lacking. I found a book from 1995 which attributes the quote as a "Old Chinese Proverb" but almost everything else I could find attribute it to Confucius himself (one book tacked into the Analects but failed to fact-check it). Someone on Facebook attributed it to the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, but if you Google that, it just goes back to their FB page and no one else linked it to Kangxi.

It sounds like a Chinese fortune cookie thing, so chalk it up to a clever fortune cookie writer or as an actual "Old Chinese Proverb". 

So, is it a good quote though?

Nope. First off, it's literally wrong, there is no beauty in cockroaches, vomit or dirty diapers. It's a lie of the first order.

You're being unfair to the quote, it should best be read metaphorical, not literal.

Okay, so maybe the quote isn't about "beauty" in the literal sense of the word but is more about finding gratitude in our lives.  I believe that it's true that filling your life with gratitude will change your outlook on life and more importantly, your actions.

My own two cents is that it's an okay-enough statement. For most things in life, there is beauty. Even though my kids might be screaming, fighting or fussing, underneath is a beautiful person being developed and the preciousness of life.  We need to live with more mindfulness to find the beauty. 

Well then, did Confucius ever teach about gratitude? 

I searched Muller's translation for "thankfullness", "thankful", "gratitude" and "grateful" and came up with nothing meaningful. I don't think the concept was foriegn to Confucius but might not have been something he or his editors found important enough to speak/write about.

* As always I use Muller's translations.
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Confucius
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Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Confucius
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