Do not want others to know what you have done? Better not have done it anyways. – Chinese Proverb
What does that mean?
Translations are such fun. This saying almost sounds like a stereotypical movie character is saying it. To put it in (what I consider to be) cleaner English, I would rephrase it as “If you don’t want others to know what you have done, you are better off to have not done it in the first place.” Or, “If you might be embarrassed about others finding out what you have done, then don’t do it!” Or, “Don’t do it unless you would be proud to call your mama and tell her all about it!” How is that for a translation?
Basically it says that if you think you might be embarrassed if someone found out what you did, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. The fear of shame is a powerful force, even in modern liberal democracies. It was a far more significant force in ancient China, where the shame wasn’t only yours, but spread to and shared by your family.
Why is shame important?
Shame is a negative emotion, one which we try to avoid. This is typically a societal or group norm, the rejection of which results in a rejection of the individual. As society changes, so do the norms, and with that, the shame. At one point in time, divorce was unheard of. Then it started appearing in pop songs (even if only spelled out) and in the tabloids. Slowly, over the decades, it became more acceptable to many segments of society, even to the point of a person being considered outside of normal if they haven’t had one (Hollywood marriages, in particular).
Shame, along with some of the other negative reinforcements, are the guard rails of society. They help keep people on a path determined by the society as being beneficial, however that is defined in that society (keeping the powerful in power is the most common). Whether it’s a legal issue, a moral issue, or an intellectual issue, the threat of shame makes clear which lines are not to be crossed.
Where can I apply this in my life?
If you are a parent, shame is both a tool and a curse. You can use it to help keep a child on what you consider the proper path. How many have heard the immortal line, “Do that again, and I’ll spank you in front of you friends!” – spoken by someone else, of course? However, eventually the sword cuts the other way, and the child (usually an older teen) threatens to do something that will embarrass or shame you half to death.
If you aren’t using shame to manipulate a child (or someone else), you will probably be interested in avoiding being shamed through your own actions. As the saying states, the best way to avoid shame is to never do something shameful. Easy to say, harder to do. Especially when peer pressure comes into play. What kids consider normal, or even beneficial, can be radically different from what their parents believe. Even Socrates has a quote about how badly children of his age behaved when judged by the societal standards of the day. Not much has changed in the last two and a half millennia.
Decision making requires a relatively clear head. Being under the influence, whether that of alcohol, drugs or others can be counterproductive. The first thing to go is judgement, good judgement, that is. If you make the big decision first, the little ones will care for themselves. Decide that you won’t put yourself in a situation where a specific embarrassing thing could happen may mean that you don’t get to hang out with the popular kids, nor have much fun. You are also less likely to come home with a hangover and a new tattoo on your neck. Or worse.
What are the things you are tempted to do, that you would be shamed, mortified, or at least embarrassed if your friends, neighbors, parents, co-workers or others found out about. If you don’t feel comfortable writing them down, that should be a clue as to how badly you wish to avoid being caught. Write down, in code if need be, a couple things you are tempted to do, and remember the ones you are too scared to write. List the events that would likely lead up to what you shouldn’t do. Then take it back another level by determining what might lead up to those events. This is your road-map to ruin, so you will want to put up road blocks.
As an example, let’s say you have some friends who all have tattoos, and you don’t, and they keep trying to get you to go to a bar right next to a tattoo parlor and get you wasted enough to get inked up. OK, let’s start with a bar next to a tattoo parlor, that’s a bad place to be. That is likely to be preceded by some heavy drinking in the company of a particular group of people. If you wish to avoid the tattoo, you will at the very least want to figure out how to avoid a bar near a tattoo parlor. Perhaps you need to be extra careful about how much you drink in the presence of that group of people, or even avoid them entirely. While ink is no longer forever (laser treatments are available that can do wonders), it’s probably best to not get any on you that you didn’t put a bit of thought into beforehand.
Take a look at your list, and the things that precede them. Is there something in common? When I did this kind of analysis many years ago, I noticed the common thread was alcohol. It wasn’t fun giving it up, and it meant not hanging with the guys anymore, but I did it. It helped that it was shortly after I graduated from college, and moved away from my ‘bad influences’, but it still wasn’t an easy step to take. However, it was amazing how it changed my health (physical and mental) and my propensity to get in trouble.
Avoidance will take some effort, and you are the final judge of what you are willing to do and what you are willing to bear. Consider so many of the politicians having affairs, corporate types with their hand in the till, and so on. Some of it is stereotypical, but unfortunately, headlines remind us that it still happens like clockwork.
Set your aspirations as high as possible, there will be plenty of time to roll in the gutter later in life, if you should choose to do so. If you start in the gutter, you may find yourself with severely limited options later in life.
From: Twitter, @AncientProverbs
confirmed at : http://chineseculture.about.com/library/literature/blsproverb-ad.htm ( 4th from bottom )