The cardinal virtue

子曰:「里仁為美。擇不處仁,焉得知?」
Confucius said: “It is beautiful to live in a neighborhood that is filled with goodness. How can someone be wise if they choose to live in a place that lacks goodness?”

Book 4 of the Analects takes a deep dive into the characteristics of goodness (仁/rén), the cardinal virtue of Confucius’s thought that has been variously translated as “humanity”, “humaneness”, “benevolence”, and “love”.

Like any real estate broker worth their salt, Confucius clearly understood the value of location. Why choose to live in a decrepit and dangerous neighborhood where you are more likely to lose your sense of “goodness” when you can opt for a much better one where you can cultivate it among people who share your similar values to your own?

We see the same dynamic in place today as parents pay huge premiums on houses so that they can get their children into “good” schools filled with students from “good” families – leading to growing disparities in living standards between different areas and accusations of social cleansing and ghettoization.

For all his undoubted wisdom, Confucius probably didn’t have much of a grasp of the law of unintended consequences. Not that anyone else has ever come up with a better answer to this issue.

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