Deference

子曰:「能以禮讓為國乎,何有!不能以禮讓為國,如禮何!」
Confucius said: “If a ruler is able to govern a state by observing the rites and showing deference, what difficulties will he encounter? If a ruler is unable to govern a state by observing the rites and showing deference, what use are the rites to him?”

The rites are the customs and conventions – the cultural glue, if you like – that bind a country, institution, or even family together. They are not implemented by coercion or force, but by deference (讓/rang): a two-way process in which people at all levels of society from the ruler to a humble farmer showed mutual respect for each other and the contribution they make to its smooth functioning.

If a ruler ignores the rites and adopts a more dictatorial approach, the common bonds created among people unravel and society begins to break down. Courtesy is replaced by cruelty, harmony is riven by conflict, and chaos beckons.

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