Confucius said: “When serving your parents, you may gently remonstrate with them. If you see that they’re not following your advice, remain respectful and do not contradict them. Don’t let your efforts turn to bitterness.
Filial piety is probably the best known but least well understood of all the values promoted by Confucius in the Analects. Thanks to thousands of years of propaganda by successive generations of rulers eager to assert strict control over their restless subjects, not to mention countless hapless parents attempting to keep their unruly children in line, filial piety has become almost synonymous with blind obedience to your elders and superiors.
Yet, as his comments in Chapter 18 of Book 4 show, Confucius actually had a much more nuanced vision of the relationship between parents and their offspring: one in which as the son grew up and reached maturity he had the right and indeed responsibility to “remonstrate” with them if he felt that they were going off the right track. Confucius’s only proviso was that the son should do this sensitively and not get upset if his parents didn’t listen to him.
The deeper I dig into the Analects, the greater the differences I am finding between what Confucius actually said and (to borrow the famous phrase about Steve Jobs) the “reality distortion fields” that have grown up around some of his most important teachings. Filial piety is one good example; education and learning is another. No doubt I’ll be unearthing even more as I continue my exploration of the Analects.