I met Mr Benny Li Shun Yan at a get-together for my friends the other day. Soon after, I happened to read his concise and very clear article, "Decency". With Mr Li's approval, I am uploading the story to my web blog. I want to share with students the writer's central idea that one ought to learn how to conduct oneself and be a "decent" person in addition to doing well in one's academic studies.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Decency By Benny Li Shun Yan
When the great calligrapher Huang Miaozi passed away, Mr Luo Fu spoke of him as "a good man, a very decent man".
This news made me think that the word "decency" is rarely mentioned these days.
In present-day Hong Kong, most parents want their children to develop a range of skills: learning English, playing the piano, swimming, and practising ballet, for example. When the kids grow up, they are expected to study financial investment, law or medicine. After they graduate, they are encouraged to become lawyers, managers at investment banks or doctors. Highly skilled and well educated, they form an "elite" in society.
But what of "decency"?
In the old days, whether you are born into a rich, scholar-gentry or working-class family, the first lessons you learned from your parents concerned politeness and civility. People knew back then that only by laying a solid foundation early on could children be expected to become accomplished later in life. This kind of foundation did not entail simply the power to earn a good living; it meant something more, something of higher value.
In those days, there was a world of difference between a polite and an impolite person. Even if an offensive person was successful, he was held in contempt, whereas a decent ordinary person was widely acclaimed.
Nowadays people have become indifferent to such values. Parents focus their complete attention on their children mastering various skills through cramming-type teaching methods. Mums and dads are so worried that their offspring won't be able to make a living when they grow up. Parents think versatile children are good and that those who earn big bucks are successful. No wonder we hear news of moral degeneration from time to time.
We also hear about frequent legacy disputes in rich and influential families, seeing a daughter of a billionaire who looks more like someone who has to feed her family on prostitution rather than coming from a good family.
That happens today simply because the word "decency" is no longer a part of family education.
This article was published in the Hong Kong Economic Times on 13 January, 2012.