Sometimes hearing a familiar principle from a different cultural context makes it seem more interesting, less banal; the same way that eating pizza prepared by a street vendor in Rome would taste better than my local delivery pizza simply because it was made in Rome. Most westerners are familiar with the fifth commandment in the Bible:

Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 5:16

However, other cultures and traditions also incorporate the concept of honoring elders into their belief systems as well.

Take also the concept of Filial Piety – one of the eight virtues of Confucianism. Scholars attribute the Eight Virtues to a line in the Sage Emperor Guan’s Book of Enlightenment:

“It is through Filial Piety, Sibling Harmony, Dedication, Trustworthiness, Propriety, Sacrifice, Honour, and Sense of Shame that we become fully human.” 

Filial Piety means to be good to one’s parents; to take care of one’s parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one’s parents and ancestors. The Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism expounds on this general definition:

  • What is filial piety? There are many aspects of filial piety. The most important of them is to honor your father and mother and attend to their needs.
  • By “honor” it is meant that you should maintain good conduct and never do things which will shame your parents or make them unhappy.
  • You should be hard working in family affairs.
  • You should be frugal in spending and not waste family resources.
  • Siblings should live in harmony.
  • In your interactions with other people you should be honest and sincere. Do not be deceitful. In all your actions be humble, be courteous and considerate of others, be proprietous and refrain from shameful thoughts and actions.
  • You should also attend to your parents’ well-being. There are three basic needs you must provide for your parents. First, you should provide for their food and clothing. Second, when they are ill, you must take responsibility for nursing them back to health. Third, when they die, you must provide them with proper burial and care for their graves.
  • As a son or daughter, whether you are rich or poor, whatever profession you are engaged in, whether you are married or not, whether you have children or not, if you can perform these three deeds with sincerity and dedication, your parents will be happy while they are alive and rest in peace when they are deceased. Your parents cared for you without selfish interests. Your mother carried you in her womb for ten lunar months and nursed you for three years. Your parents constantly tended to your needs while you were growing up. You should show your gratitude to them by fulfilling the virtue of filial piety. Filial piety has many aspects. As long as each is performed with all your heart, this virtue is fulfilled. Whatever you do for your parents, do it with goodwill and sincerity.

I think we can all agree that the world could use a little more Filial Piety.