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The power of silence

Recognized as the father of Chinese philosophy and culture, Confucius belief in virtues in relation to ethical and moral codes permeated China as the fiber of her becoming.  The central doctrines include five virtues: benevolence (Rén), righteousness (Yì), etiquette (Lǐ), knowledge (Zhì), and integrity (Xìn).  They are the pillars of interpersonal relationships, in ancient terms namely ruler and subject, neighbor and neighbor, father and son, husband and wife, brother and brother.

Let’s look at the first three virtues by Confucius in brief…

The concept of Lǐ (etiquette) refers to proper ritual (or ritualized behavior) in personal interactions, emphasizing appropriate speech and body language in accordance with status, ages, and gender.  Yì (righteousness) pertains to an internalized human capacity that informs us how to act properly within the context of the situation, people, and thing.  Rén (benevolence) speaks to the core of keeping a harmonious relationship and is the root of non-confrontational style within the Chinese culture.  The purpose of communication is to exert benevolence.  The argument is not conducted by a man of superiority.   

When it is all said and done, how do they translate to codes of ethics in approaching human relationships?  Obedience and loyalty to superiors, filial piety to ancestors, and virtue to the society.  Not to question a ruler’s authority and keep thoughts to oneself while respect is shown in deference so that harmonious relationships are maintained with the ultimate ideal of each person becoming a gentleman or superior man.  What is their relevance? Speaking up disrupts harmony, creates chaos, and defies the virtues of human endeavor.

The essence of Taoism is to live in harmony with the Tao – way, path, principle, finding peace within oneself and with nature. A fundamental tenet of ‘the Way” is wú wéi, meaningeffortless action” or “action without intent.”  As we are inextricably part of nature and nature works harmoniously in its way, human thoughts and will interfere with the flow of nature thereby lead to discord and conflict.

The Taoist, Lao Zi, in the classic text of Tao Te Jing stated the following verses:

It is better to become passive in order to see what will happen. It is better to retreat a foot than to advance only an inch.”


Those who understand do not talk. Those who talk do not understand.”


Reserve judgments and words. Smooth differences and forgive disagreements.”

All of which depicts a belief in non-action portrayed by humility and prudence, therefore experiencing the simplicity and synchronicity of Tao.  Taoism advocates harmony and silence, much aligned with its values on mystical reflection on nameless, formless ‘being’ as the essence all natural processes.  Where does speaking up fit in?  It does not.  According to the principle of Taoism, silence is encouraged and essential for those aspired to attain enlightenment, sage-hood, and peace from within.

Teachings from Confucius and Taoist gave rise to the idea of Harmony, Collectivism and Deference (read more).

Coaching & Supervision Implication

I did not learn the teaching of Confucius extensively, nor was I taught explicitly to practice Taoism.  In writing of today’s topic, I realized the influence of Chinese culture and philosophy are deeply ingrained in my being as a coach and supervisor, surprisingly in a positive way.

It has been observed that my style is organic, spacious, and expansive, expressed in rhythm and cadence of language and much of silence; conversation flows naturally into the ebbs and flows of the moment.  My upbringing has anchored the discipline of introspection and reflection on the relationship with self, others, and life on a broader context that has expanded my capacity to be with others, a vessel for their stores and life scripts.  Staying in silence for deep listening is home to me.  Suspending judgment for a space of inquiry is of effortless ease.  Navigating through the field of unknown and uncertainty is a welcomed playground with non-attachment to problem-solving or a particular result. 

My evolving journey to embrace my light and my shadow is to honor my voice as a gift to self and others and to continue to speak up, to speak from the heart.

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