Individuality (Confucianism)

Introduction

This activity helps students question widespread beliefs (in western cultures) about individuality and independence. It helps illustrate the Confucian emphasis on community and the importance of our relations to others.

Background Information

Motivation

One feature of modern European (political) thought was an emphasis on the individual - this leads to students (and people in general) who grew up in cultures deeply influenced by European thought to think of themselves as more independent than they might really be and to value independence more than it (perhaps) should be valued). This activity helps students question these ideas and start to think more deeply about how they want to value individuality and independence.

Logistics

This includes a pair activity.

Texts / Connections

Relevant texts:

The Analects

The Mengzi

Connections:

This could be paired with modern political works by Hobbes or Locke.

Courses and Topics

  • Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics, Political Philosophy

Activity Plan

Ask students to write down, on a piece of paper, how they would rate, on a scale of 1-10, how independent of a person they are (1 = I can't be alone for 5 minutes without feeling uncomfortable, 10 = I could live on Mars alone for 4 years and be perfectly content).

Then, asks students to pair up. They will take turns answering a question to the other person (e.g. How is college different from high school; what was the best class you've ever taken and why; who was the best teacher you've ever had and why) - I find it best to alternate the questions. However, students should face each other, and look at each other directly in the face. The student who isn't answering the question should try to remain completely stone-faced, without giving any expression or response (I tell the students to just stare at the tip of the other person's nose the entire time). The person answering the question should do so in 60 seconds or 90 seconds - after the time is up, ask to switch. Then, discuss how long the exercise felt, how it felt to talk to someone with no response, and how much the exercise makes apparent that we rely on others responses to ourselves a lot more than we might realize.

Then use this point to generalize that maybe we aren't quite as independent as we like to think of ourselves.

Authorship

Seth Robertson (University of Oklahoma)
sethrobertson@ou.edu