Please give up this seat if an elderly or disabled person needs it

It causes me some sadness to see that there appears to be in our time a real need for the placing of signs like this in our buses and public transport systems. It is seen side by side with notices to the effect that “seats are not for feet” this latter injunction accompanied by an audible reminder to the same effect frequently repeated across the public address system of our trains. And we have warnings not to drop our litter, or dump our waste, as well as reminders clean up after our dogs (since obviously our canine friends cannot look after this piece of public responsibility themselves).

What a pity that people have to be reminded of behaviour which should be a matter of simple courtesy, decency, responsibility, thoughtfulness and common sense. Holding a door, getting up to let someone else sit down, not expecting other to sit where you have placed your feet, not expecting others to lift up the litter that you have dropped, or expecting someone else to clean the unpleasant mess that your dog has excreted on the public footpath, these are all common sense behaviours that should be second nature to any thinking person.

I am reminded of all this today when listening to an audio book The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions, a book in The Great Courses series, and captivatingly narrated by Professor Jay L. Garfield.

The book is a captivating tour through the great philosophical and religious traditions of the world.

Today the part I listened to referred to Taoism, also known as Daoism, a religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin arising some four centuries before the birth of Jesus. The Tao Te Ching text in that tradition offers some thoughts which we in the 21st century might beneficially take to heart:

“When the way is lost, virtue appears; when virtue is lost, kindness appears; when kindness is lost, justice appears, when justice is lost, ritual appears. Ritual marks the waning of belief and the onset of confusion.”

Put simply it talks in the first instance about simply living a good life as understood by the individual.

When that decent living commitment is lost a set of prescribed virtues are developed and urged for practice.

When those virtues fail to be applied people are urged to at least fall back on the idea of showing simple kindness to others, not stealing, not doing to others what you would not wish done to yourself.

Only when basic kindness and consideration fails to work then justice is applied – the law is set out and is to be obeyed and enforced.

As respect for law is lost society falls into confusion.

Today we are inclined to look upon law and rules and enforcement as the cement which binds society together.  We build our society on these foundations.

But in the Taoist view the creation and enforcement of law is the final step in trying to hold things together when kindness, virtue and common goodness have failed.

Our way of encouraging good behaviour is directly and vertically the opposite of what would be the best way for humanity to work in harmony.

So, for example, anti social behaviour should simply be a no no for thinking people. In the Taoist ideal rules relating to this should be unnecessary. Laws and enforcement would be a very last resort and not the cement that basically binds.

Could we begin to teach our children basic respect for the rights of others and hope for the day when it would not be necessary for them to see (and pay attention to) a sign on a bus before standing up let a less able person sit down? It can be more like that if we teach a basic civil responsibility, and maybe a little bit of Taoism.

Tony – Dublin 15 August 2016

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