What is a "whole person"?
I am often invited to give talks at high-school graduation ceremonies. These occasions remind me of the speeches I heard as a kid at my primary and secondary school graduations. The speakers would usually talk about how we should have ideals and ambitions. But if these messages were repeated too often, the rhetoric lost its appeal. It was too vague, too clichéd and too stereotyped. Consequently, the student audience was more often than not dozing while the speaker at the podium was enthusiastically delivering the speech.
The Chinese take pride in using high-sounding slogans but these sayings often become unattainable principles. On 3 June, I gave a talk to students at Fukien Secondary School in Siu Sai Wan during the graduation ceremony. I thought about the whole-person education that is championed at Hong Kong universities. Whole-person education is not an empty slogan. It refers to the overall development of a person morally, intellectually and physically, i.e. placing emphasis on cultivating a person's virtue while fostering talent.
I think whole-person education should start early and not begin at college. For one thing, it might be too late. The early teens is a critical stage in a person's development. Secondly, what about those young people who don't go to college?
The word "people" refers to "others" as well as "ourselves". Humans are by nature social animals. We interact with each other from childhood. But our social interactions are not free of interest relations, i.e. interest for others or interest for ourselves. However, there is a great deal of learning in this kind of relationship. While most people understand this, not everyone can properly balance different interests in practice. If you don't believe me, let me tell you a couple of stories.
The first is about an old lady traveling by train from Xi'an to Beijing. In those days, train windows could be opened. The old lady was taking in the views when a sudden blast blew one of her new leather gloves out the window. Her fellow passengers felt sorry for her but couldn't do anything to help. Suddenly, the old lady tossed the other glove out the window. The other passengers were puzzled. When asked, the old lady replied: "A single glove without its mate is of no use to me. But if someone should be able to pick up both gloves, he or she could use them."
The other story is about a blind monk who always carried a lantern while walking in the dark. Someone asked him why he, a blind monk, would need a lantern since he couldn't see? The monk replied slowly, "Well, it is really for myself. Although I am blind and cannot see, others can see me and they won't bump into me."
Could we do the same as the old lady or the blind monk, either benefiting others without hurting ourselves or benefitting others as well as ourselves? It is not wrong for a man of noble character to love money as long as it is obtained fairly. It might be impractical to demand someone to be unselfish as we ourselves are humans as well. But we have many choices for how we can treat others on the basis of our self-interest. Helping others as well as ourselves; thinking of others; looking for mutual benefits – that is whole-person education as well.
We all do things out of self-interest but we mustn't forget the basic principles. If we think of ourselves without taking into consideration the interests of others; if we are unwilling to help others because we would not benefit from such actions; if we put our own interest before anything else; or, even worse, if we forget ethics out of personal interest, then we would have forgotten the basic principles for humanity.
All things considered, I hope all of us can adopt this motto: "All for one and one for all".
19 June, 2017