Some years ago, my second wife and I enjoyed reading Chinese literature together. Actually, she did all the reading because she was the only one of us who could translate Classical Chinese. My job was merely to listen to her.
Tomoko had a fine library of classical Chinese literature that she had acquired while growing up in Japan. Some of “her” authors were famous in the West. Others were unknowns who had not been translated into English.
Our hobby was to take a book or two with us whenever we went out to eat at a restaurant in the evening. With no food to prepare and no dishes to clean, we could afford to round our meal with her translations.
“Clothes, food, shelter: Satisfy these first, then teach people to be human.” This morning, I found a slip of paper from back in those days when I would sometimes copy down a passage of a book that Tomoko was reading to me. The author of that line lived circa 575 B.C.E., and I think he was one of the authors who has not yet been translated into English, but I might be wrong about that.
His advice is both obvious and timeless.
It can be argued that polite manners, arts, music, stimulating conversations, and many similar things go a long ways towards making us fully human. Yet, when people are struggling for clothing, food, and shelter, they are seldom inclined to devote much energy to such things. I suppose those look ridiculous to a man desperate with hunger.
Despite that the author’s advice to politicians is obvious, the world has certainly seen a great many lords and ladies who failed to spend as much time thinking of their subject’s basic needs as they spent thinking of their own horses and hunting hounds. It’s sad the author’s advice has been just as needed — and ignored — as it is obvious.
Back when I copied down that line on a slip of scrap paper, I ran a business employing 13 people. I probably copied it down because it agreed in some way with how I ran my business. Maybe I found it encouraging.
I wasn’t a good capitalist. I had somehow gotten it into my head — without really thinking much about it — that the main purpose of a business was to provide a living — not necessarily to the shareholders — but certainly to the workers. I suppose a good capitalist would have done it the other way around.
I wonder now which way the author of that ancient Chinese text would have done it?