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Benjamin Hammer: Modesty leads to longer happiness | Updated: 2022-09-27 09:02
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Benjamin K. Hammer, executive chief editor of the Journal of Chinese Humanities, an English-version of Journal of Literature, History and Philosophy published by Shandong University [Photo provided to]

Q: You have studied Chinese language and ancient Chinese documents for many years. How has your knowledge about China influenced your values and outlook on life and the world?

A: Studying Chinese philosophy and culture for so long has definitely helped shape me and help me grow into the person that I am today.

In one way, Confucian philosophy has taught me about the importance of our social roles and responsibilities, about how we need to consider our specific relationship to the people around us and we need to consider what does that relationship require of us. That's something that Confucianism can teach us.

I also would like to believe that Taoism has taught me a lot about humility, sort of the opposite of selfishness or greed. The Daodejing (or Tao Te Ching) has a lot of metaphors from the natural world about how we should comport ourselves in life.

One of the big ones is water. The course in the flow of water can only be following the laws of nature and the laws of physics. But one of the reasons why water is such an apt metaphor in the Daodejing is that water always flows towards the lower place whereas humans we naturally want to rise up. We have this natural tendency to compete with others and compare ourselves to others and try to always put ourselves in a position ahead of the next person or on top of the other person which can create a lot of conflict, greed, and unnecessary problems. Water on the other hand is the opposite. Water always chooses the lowest path.

So if we follow the example of water instead of always trying to vie with other people or compete with other people, we allow other people to rush forward and then we become satisfied with more natural and normal path for ourselves, more modest and humble path, and that could lead to longer happiness.

Q: In your opinion, how would spreading Confucianism contribute to building a community with a shared future?

A: Confucianism has been studied in the West, even in the mainstream academia for several decades, in the Europe and in America.

Recently it's becoming more popular even with people outside of that academia. One of the reasons is that we can all see certain problems in conflicts that have arisen in western society - a lot of them are the result of western philosophy, whether it's political philosophy or ethical philosophy. I believe that western philosophy at its route is very good and very valuable, very helpful and it's worth studying. But every philosophy in the world has its limits and every philosophy could run its course. It seems like in the western world, political philosophy is coming to an impasse. It's coming to maybe a dead end in the road where western philosophy or political philosophy itself can't provide its own internal solution and that's why a lot of people are turning to eastern philosophy and eastern wisdom in the hopes that something like Confucianism or Taoism or Buddhism might be able to solve some of the social conflicts and political problems that we run into that western philosophy cannot solve.

Q: How do you think the Nishan Forum will promote Chinese Confucianism internationally?

A: The more international the Nishan Forum is, the more efficiently it will be able to reach its goal of promoting Confucianism outside of China.

If you have a lot of international figures and scholars who attend this, that means two things - one they are going to be bringing their foreign ideas and backgrounds into this discussion of Chinese philosophy which is good for the growth of Chinese philosophy. The other thing it signifies is that these foreign participants will then take what they have shared and gathered and learned from the Nishan Forum back to their own respective countries and hopefully share what they've learned and impart some of the benefit in the wisdom of Confucian philosophy with their own foreign cohorts, colleagues, friends and citizens.

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