The responsibility to be polite and courteous


CH'NG Poh Tiong's column: Zuo Wang

We must always be especially courteous to people who serve us.

The reason is simple.

If we were rude to them, they would still have to serve us. That’s very unfair.

Would you, for example, wish to harm someone who has done no harm to you? If that is wrong, how much more wrong then to be rude to – or harm – someone who has been serving us.

Jade Belt Milky Way is a landscape of lush green and the snaking Kaidu River in Xinjiang.
Looking at it makes one meditative. Photo by CH

In today’s world where people eat out regularly, a restaurant has actually become something like a ‘training ground’. Just as basketball and soccer players practise on a court and in a field respectively, diners – whether children or grown-ups - train in a restaurant to refine their manners.

You often hear parents teaching their children how to sit properly and not make so much noise in a restaurant. And to be polite to their grandparents and other guests who have been invited to the meal.

At the same time, quite often, the same parents are not themselves polite to the service staff or the maid they have brought along to the restaurant.

The child finds this conflicting behaviour very confusing.

If we wish to teach someone values, we have to be prepared to do so by example. If we say one thing and do everything that is the exact opposite, no one will take us seriously.

To be truly polite, we cannot choose who to be polite to and who we imagine we have a right to be rude to. We have to be totally ‘blind’. From the road sweeper to the person who drives the Bentley on the road, we have to be equally polite to them. Otherwise, we become a hypocrite.

Personally, the only people I am not polite to are rude people. I try my best not to be rude back to them (not always successfully) because I don’t want to sink to their level. Instead, I simply ignore them because such people are not important.

We must also never cultivate good manners simply because we want people to say we are polite.

That would make us insincere. When that happens, we become pretenders with an ulterior motive. We only behave properly in front of society’s ‘Close Circuit Television’ or ‘CCTV’. It’s a show but with no soul.

To do something for no reward is to be completely free. This kind of freedom, money cannot buy because it is priceless.

There is a calm and serenity in Chinese painting that
suggest a refinement in our culture.
Our behaviour should be no different.The Mind Landscape of Xie Youyu (ca. 1287)
Ink & color on silk
27.4 x 116.3 cm
Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322)
© Princeton University Art Museum

What has all this got to do with a Chinese wine column?

We often boast that China is the longest, unbroken civilisation in the world. We talk about being 5,000 years old (it’s actually longer than that, more like 7,000 years, because jade was already produced then).

With that claim comes a huge responsibility.

It’s not enough to be the fastest growing economy on the planet for the last 20 years and to send wave after wave of Chinese tourists around the world to shore up the struggling economies of so many countries.

We have an even greater duty.

Just as children look to the oldest and wisest person to guide them, as the oldest, continuous civilisation, China too possesses that unique privilege to show by example how when we are courteous and polite, people will respect and admire (instead of fear) us.

No one wants to be around people they fear. Instead, the people whom we respect, admire and love, we can’t wait to be with them.

When we achieve that, people will say that not only is China the most ancient, continuous civilization in the world, it is also the most refined civilisation there has ever been.

Today is a good day to begin that journey. Kanpei!

Columnist Introduction

A lawyer by training, CH’NG Poh Tiong also holds a Postgraduate Certificate with Distinction in Chinese Art from the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. He is an Honorary Ambassador of TEFAF – The European Fine Art Fair – Maastricht. CH'NG works principally as a wine journalist and is publisher of The Wine Review, the oldest wine publication in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and China since 1991.

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