|To Essays Page (To Simplified Chinese Version)
|  到論文頁 (到简体版)
On Obligations and Morality -
(To "Dialogue 1: Having Children")
(To "Dialogue 2: Raising Children, Marriage")
(To "Dialogue 4: Homosexuality")
The Elder said:
(Cont'd from previous: "Dialogues-2"...)
I:   ... What is there left to morally bind a couple together after the children are raised?
Elder:   ... That big moral reason is: continuing to cooperate in order to create a multi-generational extended family of much more total overall mutual help and therefore greater morality, since mutual help is morality, instead of splitting the family up into merely two-generational nuclear families with much less total overall mutual help and therefore lesser morality.
This includes cooperating to continue to help and nurture the children, especially helping them raise the grandchildren. A couple more pairs of hands is much better than none, especially when these hands are commited due to the emotional bonds of being family. Also, the grandparents are more relaxed and under less work pressure, and will have much more patience with the children. Having other adults than one's parents to provide nurture and culture will only enrich the grandchildren.
Building an extended family also includes providing a focus for the offspring to wholeheartedly, with full commitment, support and care for you in your old age and infirmity, since you wholeheartedly, with full commitment, support and care for each other and for them and their offspring.
On the contrary, if you are separated and then remarried, the offspring will feel less or even no urge to support and care for you.
Your remaining together provides a moral example of full commitment to mutual help, mutual caring and mutual support.
The multigenerational extended family is a great achievement for human morality.
I:   Goodness, you must be kidding; I thought the multigenerational extended family was just a relic of Chinese feudal times! Just read Ba Jin's 1931 novel "Family" and you can see how horrible the multigenerational extended family was! And you want to revive that horror?
Elder:   Very good point, very representative of popular thinking. Have you read Ba Jin's "Family"?
I:   No, not the original work, but I've read about it.
Elder:   Oh my, you must read the original. Well, I've read it. Right after I read Ba Jin's book "Family", I wrote in my diary: "His accusations against 'the big family' are only the accusations against marriages arranged by elders and against obedience to elders. The basis for his self-righteousness is nothing other than love, it's the love from the West. (See this essay criticizing the West's supremacy of love.)" Ba Jin's accusations against the extended family is invalid, because the extended family does not necessarily mean that elders will force marriages on the younger people, nor that elders must be absolutely obeyed. Those are not things integral to the extended family; those are non-issues, false crimes forced onto the extended family. What the extended family means and what is integral to the extended family, is the close-knit mutual help among several generations of family members, as expressed in the family members living together or in close proximity, and in the married siblings living together or in close proximity with their parents. Now in the history of multigenerational extended families in China, has there been forcing marriages on younger people, or demanding that elders be absolutely obeyed? Of course, but the mistakes that our forebears have made, we don't need to make them today. We shouldn't totally negate our forebears' great, correct and good things just because we don't want to make their mistakes; we shouldn't throw out the baby with the dirty bath water.
Ba Jin doesn't say a word about the good things of the extended family. The multigenerational extended family is a great and good thing in human history. The extended family not only most effectively looks after the older generation, but also most effectively looks after the younger generation. The extended family not only most effectively utilizes the grandparents, so that even after gettting old and retiring they can still look after the grandchildren and provide consultation and opinions to the offspring and to the grandchildren, but also most effectively utilizes mutual help among the women, so that among the aunties they can mutually look after each other's children, much more effectively, not needing to always be only one-on-one but can be one-on-several, and so that the women can cooperate to look after the eldery, not needing to be only one-on-one but can be several-on-one. This way, not only do the grandchildren get better and more diversified interactions with adults, but also the women can better participate in socioeconomic work, especially as information technology advances and work at home becomes more widespread. As technology advances, the multigenerational extended family will become more and more attractive to people.
I:   Why do you only speak of the advantages of the extended family for the women, as if only women take part in work on the home and looking after the children and the elderly. Don't men also take part?
Elder:   Ha ha ha, a good question! Of course, men also should take part in work on the home and looking after the children and the elderly. Men, however, often just don't take part enough, or take part not so well. For example, when cleaning house they often feel that they've finished cleaning and sit down to relax, but as soon as the women come home they feel the house is still a mess, very unkempt. Often this is based on biological differences between the sexes. That's why a few years ago the "Economist" magazine published a cartoon showing a sweating and panting woman with a briefcase in one hand and a child in the other, carrying on her back a husband who is happily waving his briefcase, walking her way up a slanted slope. That is a very succinct depiction of the nuclear family: it is mainly the women who suffer. Of course, along with suffering by the women, the husbands and the children also suffer. The very target of liberation and help by the multigenerational extended family and the chief beneficiaries of the multigenerational extended family, are none other than the women.
I:   But then there will be no independence from the parents — the offspring want to be independent, have their own lives, build their own homes, yet you make them still live with their parents. And there will be no privacy either — the parents will poke their noses into the married offspring’s affairs and interfere with everything!
Elder:   Ah, but the big family is also their own lives, their own homes; they don't need to be in nuclear families to have their own lives and their own homes — the only difference is that they are building a communal life and they are building their own communal homes, instead of isolated, lonely, fearful, unsupported nuclear family lives and homes. Also, people have their own private domains inside a public domain; they have their own units inside a linked compound.
As for parents poking their noses into the married offspring’s affairs and interfering with everything, first, there’s a disincentive for that to happen because the parents are too busy: they are busy with not only their own lives but also with all the grandchildren. Second: the ideal is to have separate units that can stand alone, with their own kitchens and so forth, but linked to the other units and sharing common family living areas, a common big kitchen, a common playground/yard for the kids, and perhaps even a common library and sports area, etc. That will allow for plenty of privacy. Third, you do want some sharing of your life with someone other than just your spouse. Day in, day out, facing the same adult of a similar age and of the opposite sex can make him boring and bothersome. Then his smallest faults become magnified and you can see only the faults; it’s easy to act with less civility and less respect when two people are forced to be the only adults together for so much of one’s non-working time.
I:   Isn't this mutual cooperation and mutual help among members of the multigenerational extended family just wishful thinking? Even without Ba Jin's forced marriages and absolute obedience to elders, doesn't several couples living together always result in infighting and plotting against each other?
Elder:   It's not wishful thinking. Several couples living together doesn't have to result in infighting and plotting against each other. This is a slander against the multigenerational extended family by popular culture, painting it as ugly, evil, oppressive of women, rife with conspiracies by the family members against each other. Actually, this is due to zero sum thinking and thinking that is contemptuous of the morality of Chinese people.
I:   It's not just popular culture that says this about the extended family, even the "Dream of the Red Chamber" from the Ming Dynasty says the same thing, isn't that so?
Elder:   No, that is not so. The multigenerational extended families depicted in the "Dream of the Red Chamber" were indeed evil, but those were multigenerational extended families of very wealthy high officials, and not the multigenerational extended families of ordinary people. And where did the wealth of the very wealthy high officials come from? From corruption! Therefore they were unclearn, but just because at the time such families, which were in an extreme minority, were unclean, we cannot say that all multigenerational extended families were also unclean.
I:   Is there really hope for the multigenerational extended family? Won't people always be selfish? For the aunties to look after the nephews and neices, won't there always be favoritism for one's own children and therefore there will always be disputes among the aunties? Aren't women more emotional? Can they be that rational? What's more, no matter who, there will aways be some time when the opinions cannot be the same, what to do then? When people start to argue won't they damage their feelings for each other and might even become enemies? Isn't it true that "visiting is fine but living together is not?"
Elder:   Of course there is hope, because the extended family is based on mutual help, exchange, and win-win. In particular the extended family is for truly liberating women, so that they live happy fulfilling lives. It is not like the TV shows, always depicting some infighting to the death over some inheritance. Besides, the world is now progressing, ways of communication and technology are much better than before, so if there's a will, then misunderstandings won't happen so easily, communication will be very good, fully dialoguing will be very easy. Full cooperation, timely mutual feedback about expectations and discrepancies, and discussions of improvement measures, will all be much easier than before. Of course, for this to become the general state of society, the zero-sum thinking, the domination-instead-of-dialogue thinking, the cynical thinking that suspects the motives of others, thinking so widely pushed by popular culture, must be strongly criticized by those who work in the fields of public opinion, culture, and education. Win-win thinking, thinking that emphasizes dialogue and cooperation, thinking that believes in honesty and trustworthiness and respect the character and honor of others, must be strongly advocated. Fiction and literature must create characters who possess these kinds of thinking and depict their noble behavior. I am not worried; humans are very rational and along with advances in information technology they will doubtlessly do that. People's character will become more and more noble, people's behavior will become more and more compatible with mutual help, mutual benefit and win-win. "Visiting is fine but living together is not" is erroneous thinking that have contempt for people's character and ability to communicate, is pessimistic, and does not correspond to reality.
As for being selfish, being "selfish" isn't a bad thing; it is exactly because one wants one's condition to improve that one will engage in mutual help, mutual benefit and win-win activities in order to sustainably keep making one's condition better and better through. The problem is being "selfish" in a foolish and ignorant way, trying to benefit oneself by harming others, resulting in harming others but not benefiting oneself, and even when on occassion incidentally benefiting oneself, the benefiting is not sustainable. That's because the basic mechanism governing humans is mutual exchange and mutual help. Only through this can humans obtain benefit sustainably, and doing the opposite will in the end result in either no benefit to oneself, or harm. Therefore, as long as it is enlightened, being "selfish" isn't a bad thing.
As for possible favoritism to one's own offspring when the aunties look after the nephews and neices and therefore causing disputes, this is absolutely resolvable through communication, dialogue and cooperation. Of course, this also applies to the males, the uncles. So-called favoritism is often just imagined by overly anxious parents. Parents should relax a bit: the healthy growth and development of children does not depend on keeping them in an artificial hot house environment, on making sure they are always the "best" in the group, or the "leader" of the group. Actually, this exerts undue pressure on the child and sometimes they even grow up to be self-centered jerks.
As for women being more emotional and less rational, I can't agree with that. We often see during courtship and the selection of mates the women being more rational and the men relying just on emotions. Among both men and women there are individuals who are more emotional and less rational. This condition is often related to mental health, with the main problems being depression and anxiety. Both these defects in mental health often make the sufferer mistake other's intentions, ill-tempered, angry, abd say or do things that are not rational or even cruel and hurtful. Modern medicine, however, has developed effective medications to treat these conditions, and is perfecting cognitive and counseling therapies. People no longer need to be indefinitely tormented by these mental conditions. Also, these mental conditions usually result from many years, often since childhood, of using zero-sum thinking, thinking that substitutes domination for dialogue, and cynical thinking that suspects the motives of others. Thus, along with the progress in human thinking and character brought about by technology and the popularization of the extended family, these conditions will become rare, people will become more and more moral, and happier and happier.
As for what to do if opinions differ, among themselves the couples must maintain a win-win, mutually beneficial, cooperative, rational type of dialogue, and do their best to communicate and compromise. The elderly parents have a great responsibility in protecting this type of dialogue and protecting the spirit of communication and compromise; they must not allow the offspring and their spouses to fight with and become hostile toward each other. If necessary the elderly parents can cast a decisive vote. If the elderly parents are no longer alive, then the majority or the older brother or older sister should decide. If the elderly parents are deceased and the differences are very severe, then the dissenting party can "divide up the property and live apart", and independently establish his own extended family. All this, however, must be under the conditions of continued rational dialogue, after dividing up everyone must still cooperate, and no one should become hostile or turn into enemies.
I:   Fine, but while we can expect the young and the middle age to be rational and capable of compromise, can we expect that of the elderly? Their thinking is obsolete, their concepts are rigid and fossilized, yet they are stubborn and demand respect and obedience from others - how can we live together every day?
Elder:   Now just wait a second here, respect is not identical to obedience. Respect is to listen to their opinions with focused concentration, let them completely and thoroughly say their piece, and dialogue with them politely. Respect is not blind obedience. In the Classic of Xiao (Being Good to Parents and Ancestors), "Chapter 15 Dissuading and Disputing", Confucius stressed that blindly obeying parents is not xiao. Moreover, once offspring are grown to adulthood, parents should no longer demand obedience.
Although the thinking of the elderly may be obsolete and their concepts may be fossilized, their experience is very valuable, and their opinions are worthwhile as reference. Moreover, what is most valuable is different opinions; only through the exchange of different or even opposing ideas can thinking become clearer, concepts become more fleshed out, and decisions become more intelligent. Being together every day, one can access this consultative resource any time - isn't that very valuable?
Also, when several couples live with the elderly, the elderly can look after the grandchildren and lessen the load on the parents, especially the mothers, and even when nannies are hired the elderly can supervise and direct; all that is very valuable. Besides, for the elderly, while they now help their offspring and their spouses raise the grandchildren, in the future when the elderly become infirm and need caring for, the offspring and their spouses and even the grandchildren will certainly in turn care for them. On the contrary, to only seek fun and leisure once one retires, saying "I've already done my share of raising children" and not help the offspring raise grandchildren, letting them go through all kinds of hardship, then when one becomes infirm and immobile it will be harder to ask the next generation to care for one. Of course, it's not that one shouldn't ask, it's just that it's now harder.
I:   To demand that the elderly live with their offspring and help them look after the grandchildren, isn't this robbing the elderly of freedom and enjoyment after retirement?
Elder:   Not at all. As an elderly, you have the right to not live with your offspring, and even if you live with them you have the right to not look after the grandchildren. Many elderly, however, will choose to because they feel doing this will bring them much happiness, so that they won't become those lonely old people with nothing to do, eventually feeling themselves to be useless.
Also, besides having an obligation to raise one's offspring, one also has an obligation to help raise one's grandchildren, because nurturing them and transmitting one's individual culture to them will, just as in raising offspring, help the progress of mankind.
此外，一個人除了有責任和義務養育子女之外，也有責任和義務幫助養育孫子，因為把他們栽培，傳遞你的個人文化，將會好像養育子女一樣，有助於人類的進步。（ ... 繼續）
← Back to Essays Page 回到論文頁 ← To "Dialogues-2" 到“對話二” To "dialogues-4" 到“對話四”→