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Confucianism 101 
 
by L.E. Terry September 07, 2005

Propriety in Social Relationships

In Confucian thought, human nature is innately good, but can be corrupted when people step outside of their proper roles. When people in authority abuse their power, or when subjects disrespect their superiors or try to usurp other people’s roles, relationships, and society, break down. In the Confucian view, many of today’s social problems stem from this breakdown and the resulting confusion and chaos.

In order to live the ideal life, it is necessary to fulfill one’s role within family and the community, and propriety in social relationships is just as important as duty to family. All relationships are modeled on the concept of filial piety: everyone should be treated with respectful reverence. Confucius said that relationships should be based on reciprocity and loyalty. For instance, a child is obligated to obey the parents, but the parents are also obligated to show kindness to the child.

Confucianism sees all human interactions in terms of five basic relationships: father-son, husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, ruler-subject, and older friend-younger friend. In each, both parties have an obligation, and by living up to this obligation, they help maintain balance and harmony in their relationships and in society.

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