If you’ve studied philosophy then you have likely come to realize that some of the brightest, smartest and most intuitive people that have ever lived died thousands of years ago. The way that people who lived during the B.C. era — not all of course, but a handful — is often superior to the way that people think now.
This is not to put down the philosophers of today — they’ve already been put down by society after society realized how un-lucrative philosophy itself is if — but those living 2,500 years ago or longer were the first to think philosophically; the philosophers of today have an enormous head start.
However, if applied correctly, philosophy has arguably more value than any other science. Let’s take for example the teachings of two Chinese philosophers, Confucius and Mencius — the founding fathers of Confucianism. Their ideas, although thousands of years old, if applied today can change our perspectives of the world that we live in. Here are three to start you off:
The Smallest Of Actions Often Have The Largest Of Consequences
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In this day and age, we have a tendency of focusing on the biggest things in life. We believe that the bigger, the better. Chinese philosophy teaches us differently. According to Mencius and other Chinese philosophers, it’s actually the smallest things that count most and make the biggest differences in our lives. They believe that the smallest of details or actions can have a ripple effect that can change the world.
While we may not realize it, the smallest of experiences do affect us greatly. The effects may seem small — even unnoticeable — but they have a profound effect on how we experience the world around us and how we interact with it.
The things that we experience around us and the interactions that we have with people especially, have a great effect on our mood and outlook. If we are surrounded by smiles and laughter all day, it’s hard to be sad or angry. Find yourself surrounded by hatred and disrespect and you’ll find that your outlook on life itself has changed — not for the better. While a smile or a few kind words may seem trivial, they change our mood. Our mood, in turn, has an enormous effect on our actions.
Decisions Are Made By Using Our Hearts
Today, we no longer distinguish between the heart and the mind. We have concluded that the heart is nothing more than an organ that pumps blood while the mind contains all our thoughts and emotions. However, this is not to say that Chinese proverb is wrong. The best way to look at it would be to consider the ‘heart’ to be a part of our minds — the part that allows us to feel emotions.
The truth is that while we may try to be entirely logical, we are creatures that act on emotions. It is possible to separate yourself from your emotions to a certain extent, but our actions and decisions are always based on the emotions that we are experiencing. Our emotions are a natural system of telling us what is most likely to be right or wrong for us. They allow us to ‘feel out’ what our best course of action is in any given situation — especially if the decisions that we are to make must be instant and not pondered over.
Thinking takes time — it’s just the way it is. Most of the decisions we make are not planned, but spontaneous. For this reason we will never be able to completely separate ourselves from our emotions. Understanding this will allow us to better interpret our emotions — for it’s the misinterpretation of emotions and likely outcomes of our actions that causes us distress.
Allowing The Body To Lead Will Bring The Mind To Follow
Dualism or not, the mind and body do interact. One will affect the other greatly; our minds — obviously — control our bodies. However, our bodies also affect our mind greatly. Sure, the body and the physical activities that we engage in greatly regulate the release of different chemicals in our brain. But there is more to this Chinese proverb than basic anatomy. Getting ourselves to do things — exercise, work, practice — can be difficult. Our mind often gets in the way from us moving to action.
We know what we need to do to get from point A to point B…but we're too lazy. We find reasons not to act. We create reasons to stay stagnant and we end up unhappy because we never accomplished the things that we felt we needed to accomplish. Confucius and other Chinese philosophers teach us that forcing our bodies to action will in turn change our outlooks.
By ignoring our laziness and acting, we can rewire the way we think and the way that we see the world. The best way to create change is regular repetition of action, regardless of whether or not our minds acknowledge the fact. The best way to get over our laziness may just be to act without thinking.