Media  Global Economy  2023.09.13

Rules Alone Cannot Prevent Bullying, Social Division, or a U.S.-China Conflict

Bringing true moral education emphasizing moral practices from japan to the world

The article was originally posted on JBpress on July 18, 2023

The U.S.A. China

1. Limitations of rules and the role of morality

Compliance with established rules alone is not enough to solve problems. From social problems familiar to us to critical global issues, such as bullying in schools, governance in corporate and state management, the U.S.-China friction, and the risk of global war, modern society faces a wide array of problems. At the root of these problems, there is a common essential cause. Problems that would not have arisen if each individual had a certain level of ethical standards are causing serious social unrest in every corner of the world. If people share high ethics, they no longer need detailed rules that strictly govern their behavior to the smallest details.

Nevertheless, the importance of moral education to enhance ethical standards is not fully recognized in many countries. All they do to solve various problems is to strictly bind people with detailed rules. This approach does not usually resolve the problems entirely. More and tighter rules cannot stop people from causing pain to others if their mind is unchanged.

Confucius said:
“If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good.”

In governing a society, if we regulate the people by law and punish those who do not follow the rules, they will have nothing to be ashamed of as long as they are spared punishment. On the other hand, if we emphasize to people the importance of virtue and teach them to respect propriety, they will be ashamed of their wrongdoings and will follow ethics. Here the essential difference between the effects of rules and those of morality is clearly expressed.

Of course, morality alone cannot lead all people in the right direction. To stabilize domestic societies and the world, we need enforceable rules. That being said, the purpose of setting rules is essentially to ensure that people do not bother others, at the very least. In order to create a society where people are considerate of each other and feel safe and happy, it is imperative that each member of society should not only abide by rules but also improve and practice morality. To this end, the role of education at home and at school is crucial.

2. Anti-bullying measures: Rules do not work, but ethics do

Bullying will not stop even if rules are set. Ten years have passed since the Act for the Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying (the “Anti-Bullying Act”) was established in June 2013. However, the recognized number of bullying cases has continued to rise since then. The number of bullying incidents recognized in elementary, junior high, and high schools and schools for special needs education is increasing at a furious pace: 186 thousand in 2013, 414 thousand in 2017, and 615 thousand in 2021. It is certainly possible that the enforcement of the Anti-Bullying Act has increased the number of bullying incidents, as it has raised awareness of bullying, and accordingly, cases of bullying that would not have been brought to our attention before have been reported.

Be that as it may, the sharp rise in the number of incidents indicates that bullying itself is actually on the rise. Even if we establish new laws to prohibit bullying, bullying will not decrease unless children and their parents are seriously committed to addressing the problem. It is necessary to change the mindset that tolerates bullying. This means that children and their parents become fully aware that bullying is wrong and that it is also wrong to turn a blind eye to bullying. Japanese traditionally valued such a spirit.

Shisei Sokudatsu (至誠惻怛)”

It means to care for and consider those around you with sincerity and to put those feelings into action. At the time of the Meiji Restoration, many leaders always acted with this in mind. To put it more simply, it is the practice of Jin-Gi-Rei-Chi-Shin (仁義礼智信): benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. If a person has benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom, he/she will be trusted by those around him/her. To gain trust, one must acquire the four elements of benevolence (consideration for others), righteousness (courage to do what is right), propriety (respect for others and the courtesy of showing that feeling in a tangible way), and wisdom (knowing the immaturity of one’s own mind and practical actions), practice them with courage, and make continuous efforts to develop one’s own character.

We not only educate children to understand this, but also teach them the importance of putting it into practical action in their daily lives. Just knowing about it is not enough. You can say that you have learned something only when you have become able to put it into practical action precisely when you need it. This is called “Chiko Goitsu (知行合一): Awareness comes only through practice.” We should convey the importance of this traditional spirit not only to the children but also to their parents. Both children and parents keep diaries or journals to put down how they put it into practice in their overall daily lives.

Children discuss together how they have endeavored to put it into practice during the school’s moral education class. This is to be continued from elementary school to high school. In this way, benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness will naturally take root among the children and permeate all aspects of their lives. This is true moral education. The aforementioned Anti-Bullying Act also stipulates the enhancement of moral education, etc. as basic countermeasures. Despite this, bullying is on the rise, which indicates that the moral education currently provided is inadequate.

If true moral education that attaches importance to practice continues to be thoroughly implemented in schools, children will acquire moral values and incidents of bullying will surely decrease. It will not only decrease incidents of bullying. It will also increase the number of people who are considerate and respectful of others, courteous, and courageous in doing what is right. People who live in such a society will be happy. Japan will transmit its efforts and achievements to the world. This is the effect of moral education in schools. The purpose of true moral education is to make children not only observe established rules, which are visible to others, but also learn the importance of improving their inner morality, which is invisible to others.

3. Corporate management principle: Sampo yoshi morality rather than rules of governance

In the U.S. and the U.K., growing inequalities in income have become a serious social problem, causing political and social divisions, and have highlighted the impasse of capitalism. In the U.S., this gave rise to the Trump administration, which led to partisan divisions and eventually social fragmentation, while in the U.K., it triggered BREXIT (withdrawal from the EU). Everyone is aware that the cause is excessive income inequality. To correct this, the Business Roundtable, a group of major U.S. companies, shifted in 2019 away from the traditional shareholder-first approach, and took a major turn to focus on stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, and shareholders).

If they are serious about implementing that policy, it will raise employee salaries, reduce product and service prices, increase procurement prices from suppliers, and make a greater contribution to local communities. As a result, CEO (chief executive officer) and other executive salaries and dividends to shareholders will decrease significantly. However, it is generally said that no such change in corporate behavior has actually happened. Although they know in their mind that they need to change their management principle, their actual corporate behavior remains unchanged. In order to improve corporate management, rules have been established to introduce outside directors, disclose information to increase management transparency, and strengthen governance. However, the adverse effects of capitalism’s impasse are becoming increasingly serious.

Conversely, the level of compensation for managers in many large Japanese companies is much lower than that in Western companies. This is thought to be because many companies emphasize the management principle of sampo yoshi (good for all three sides, meaning good for the seller, good for the buyer, and good for society), and a management attitude that values employees and customers has taken root. This has long been Japanese management behavior since before rules on outside directors and governance were established. Here again, we can clearly see the limitations of problem-solving by rules.

4. U.S.-China friction: Superficial observance of rules but disregard for morality

The U.S.-China semiconductor standoff is a restriction on free trade in the name of security, but it is politically difficult to refute the U.S. government’s claim that it has done nothing outside the rules. International rules are usually used by superpowers to restrict weaker countries with their overwhelming power. The unfairness of international rules has often been pointed out, as no penalty is imposed even if a strong country breaks them. As evidenced by the coercive diplomacy of both the U.S. and China, the rule of law is virtually non-existent in the international community.

The Taiwan issue also stems largely from the fact that the U.S. unilaterally abandoned its “strategic ambiguity” and changed its policy to armed support for Taiwan. Some U.S. politicians have sparked concern about the Taiwan contingency by supporting independence, which Taiwan residents do not want. There is no consideration for the risk of endangering the lives of Taiwan residents or people in neighboring countries.

Japan appealed for world peace at the G7 Hiroshima Summit. If Japan is to ensure that its appeal for world peace does not end up being just talk, it should, as a trusted ally, urge the U.S. to exercise restraint and not to provoke China over the Taiwan issue. Although Japan is not obligated by rules to act like that, there are many experts around the world who believe that Japan should do so as a matter of morality.

5. Moral root: Do one’s best for others

Whenever a problem occurs in Japan, the government formulates laws and sets new rules to remedy the situation. In the international community, the rule of law is emphasized to form order. However, it is clear in both cases that such an approach has limitations, as described above. If people’s minds are not changed, rules can be abused. Both nations and companies make up rules that suit them and then pretend to be tackling the problem by following the rules. Often, the goal is the realization of self-interest, not the essential solution to the problem. Behind the scenes, the weak are sacrificed.

There are many cases where people generally comply with the rules, but in reality, in their heart of hearts, they are aiming for goals that are contrary to the goals of the rules. If they think differently in their mind but do not say it out loud and do not violate the rules on the surface, they will not be penalized. However, that does not stop bullying. Management will not improve. The impasse of capitalism cannot be overcome. In the name of security, economic exchange will be stifled, the world will be divided, and the risk of war will increase. Neither Japan nor the world can stay like this forever.

There is no rule that stipulates that in the face of bullying, you yourself must stop it. There is no rule that stipulates that Japan must stand up in the face of an increasing risk of war between the U.S. and China. But is that OK? The government makes the laws and the schools and parents abide by them. However, bullying continues to increase. International organizations emphasize the importance of peace and economic exchange, issue various statements, and work to establish relevant rules. However, the U.S.-China conflict has intensified, and Russia has invaded Ukraine. The risks for both Japan and the world are only increasing. We should face this reality, recognize the limitations of rule-based governance and order formation, and return to the starting point of valuing human morality.

What is the root of morality? It is to do one’s best for others. This is a point repeatedly emphasized by my teacher of Chinese classics, Mr. Yoshifumi Taguchi. Society consists of oneself and others. Pursuing only one’s own interests is called selfishness. If someone acts based on selfishness, putting only his/her own interests first, no one will want to help him/her. By contrast, everyone wants to help a person who always acts unselfishly for the benefit of those around him/her, i.e., a person who practices moral values. Mr. Taguchi says that the life of such a person is joyful. Rules are necessary, but they alone will not improve society or stabilize the world order. People will not be happy.

Now, we must recognize the importance of human ethics once again and begin the challenge of putting them into practice through the dissemination of true moral education that emphasizes practice throughout the world. Unless each and every citizen, not just the government, becomes aware of this mission and takes action on their own, Japan and the world will continue to move in an increasingly bad and dangerous direction. If we try to solve problems only with superficial rules, many people on the earth will suffer again as in Hiroshima and Ukraine.