Sulynn, MAPP '06, lives with her daughter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She provides consulting and coaching services, leading her own company, Human Capital Perspectives. Sulynn is also the founder of the Asian Center for Applied Positive Psychology (ACAPP). Full bio.
Sulynn's articles are here.
Piety transcends logical reason. It is an interpersonal strength that seeks to promote another’s welfare without concern for what is fair. Piety is altruistic behavior. It is propriety – knowing what is meet and right to do, and doing it without expectation of return. Piety springs from deep reverence and respect, and embodies an abiding devotion of oneself to another, in contrast to obligatory duty and service.
Take the case of Dave Pelzer who survived a traumatic childhood of unfathomable cruel abuse by his mother with his father standing by helplessly. Yet when Pelzer grew up after several foster homes and joining the Air Force, he sought reconciliation with his father and sat at the bedside of the dying cancer-stricken homeless alcoholic when the rest of the family was absent. His mother rejected his reconciliation, yet he forgave her and prayed for her release from torment. How is this possible? Pelzer felt that it was the right thing to do. Piety is what binds an adult child to a parent even in the absence of reciprocity.
Confucius described the symbiotic Heaven-Earth pattern of constancy and righteousness, and told Man to perform the task of practical duty to maintain harmony. Filial piety means to act honorably and with self control rather than with a motive for personal gain. Man should aspire to be an example of virtue and righteousness to others, worthy of reverence, honor and emulation. However Confucius warns that piety cannot be blind; there should be remonstration when the conduct of our parent/teacher/leader is unrighteous, trusting that the bonds are strengthened rather than weakened as a result.
Similarly, Socrates believed that one should never do wrong nor disobey the state, arguing that state piety is a requirement although obedience to parents may be a temporary obligation. So strong was his commitment to truth and morality, that when he was imprisoned, he did not speak against the state even at the cost of his own life.
Religious piety refers to the observance and practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer and meditation as well as all manner of religious protocol peculiar to that faith. It calls for walking the talk. This is true across all faiths and in the secular world of discipleship to alternative spiritual gurus.
Sufficient unto Itself
Piety is also marked by abiding devotion – an ardent often selfless affection and dedication – to a person or a principle. There is no need for reciprocity as our acts of devotion are sufficient to themselves. In Chinese and most Eastern folklore, those who exhibit filial piety are more than heroes, they are the epitomes of virtue. To get an insight into acts of filial piety, read the 24 paragons of filial piety.
I can argue that Piety meets each one of the 10 criteria for character strengths, but will focus here on just a few of the criteria.
Criterion 2 Morally valued
Flial piety is highly revered and honored in China, India and across most of Asia and other collectivist cultures. The Ten Commandments places ‘honor thy father and mother’ right after honoring God.
Criterion 5 Trait-like
Filial piety is trait-like to Eastern cultures, while religious piety distinguishes practicing believers from lip-service practitioners worldwide. State piety is akin to citizenship in terms of devotion being manifested as loyalty and duty. In Eastern and perhaps collectivist Western communities, family traditions and customs ensure that piety is inextricably ingrained in the moral fiber of members of the clan. Like all virtues, piety grows in us through being used.
Criterion 6 Distinctiveness
Reverence in piety is unconditional and does not have to be earned. We do not revere a parent or a leader or deity because they are deserving; but because their place and ours in the social order is a fact. Piety is not duty although it resembles citizenship and responsibility. It is unwavering care and attention to the well-being and preservation of the object simply because it is a natural obligation.
Criterion 7 Paragons
A sterling example of a paragon of piety, both filial and state, is found in the heroine of a famous Chinese poem written during the Northern Dynasties (AD 420-589). A beautiful young woman, Hua Mulan, disguised herself as a male soldier in the Chinese Army for 12 years in order to spare her aged frail father from being drafted into fighting the war and to preserve her family’s honor. (For an animated vignette, see Disney’s Mulan.
Criterion 8 Prodigies
We also know the legend of little Hans Brinker (8) who, fearing the dangers of a leak in a dike to his little town, was up all night with his finger stuck into a hole in a dike to prevent water from trickling out thus saving Haarlem from flooding. Hans depicted the spirit of the whole country of Holland, symbolically declaring that a million fingers are ready to stop any leak in its politics, honor, or public safety – a fine example of state piety.
Confucius warned that when the symbiotic universal pattern of our world is not matched by conscious practical actions which perpetuate harmony and benevolence, anarchy will prevail. I am of the view that when we forget where we came from, where we are going loses its pleasure, meaning and purpose.
1998 Offering courtesy of anoldent
Confucius (Kong Zi, K’ung-fu-tzu or Kongfuzi) Bronze Statue. courtesy of drs2biz
Socrates courtesy of bencrowe