Filial, is the act of being a good child to ones parents and Confucius talks a lot about this in his writings. He speaks about being the ‘good son’ and respecting the wishes of the parent and holding their honour in high regard even if they act without. It’s seemingly the root of the reverence of blood in our philosophies that spread westward. While there is nothing wrong with respecting ones elders and holding high esteem for our own family, we also have a standard duty of care irrespective of differing bonds.
“A youngster should be filial to his parents when he is at home and respectful to his elders when he is away from home.” – Analects 1.6
Not particularly controversial, of course, we should have respect for everyone. In my opinion, it is the elderly who can teach us the most about the world but that is not to say that we should also stick stubbornly to outmoded and harmful tradition out of respect and resistance to evolution.
“The Master said, ‘When your father is alive, observe what he would like to do. After your father is dead, reflect on what he has done. If for three years you refrained from altering your father’s ways, you can be called filial [xiao].'” – Analects 1.11
This is where I disagree with Confucius with this level of predisposition to fixate on things that in the stoic philosophy is ultimately meaningless and transient. To be a good child to a parent we must follow every whim no matter how harmful? Sure, observe but in no means act upon things that would be harmful not just to our own virtue but also that of humanity as a whole – with each person representative any harmful act committed is just so to the person committing it. I agree with reflection, how could I not? Yet remaining unmoving in action and evolution of idea and process for three years is a dilution of the self for purposes of some semblance of title and honour. What is honour but that of virtue?
It makes me think about this, because of course, I am a geek:
Final wishes, are as adaptable as the perceiver of them like any lesson or message making such statements of being filial, ultimately entirely open to perceptions of the observer rather than actor. So what makes a good child? Blind following of ideals that are not fit for purpose in a universe of transience and flux, or adaptability and one’s own virtue within the teachings of one’s parents? Of course, no matter the relationships we have with our parents, positive or negative or non-existent, we learn lessons from them. Not just from the impressions in the DNA, but also in the philosophical and spiritual.
Being filial does not mean we mourn for three years and break our backs to please and seek approval from the present or non-present figures in our lives. It means we live true lives as virtuous beings for the common good. Pride is in that, not within ourselves – we do as we do -, but from those who brought us into this world whether we realize it or not. And, in those cases where the parental figure is adversarial and a figure of vice and malice, surely then our own virtue is a testament to the stoic epithet that to overcome our enemy we will not be like them. The say apples don’t fall far from trees but this is horseshit. Apples fall where they fall, the tree has little to do with the universal forces that we all obey. Once the apple has fallen, it is no longer to the tree to dictate its course.
“I do my own duty: the other things do not distract me. They are either inanimate or irrational, or have lost the road are and are ignorant of the true way.” – Meditations 6.22