An Eriksonian Psycho-Social Response to Confucius on the Development of Virtue in Boys and Men
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As the exemplar of how men should live, for over six hundred years Confucius has contributed greatly to the formation of the mindset and identity of Korean males. His life and teachings that emphasize the values of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity have long been regarded as the quintessential frame of reference for males in Korea to emulate. Yet at the same time, some of the legacies of Confucius connote oppression because of their overemphasis on the enhancement of human cognition and will to the neglect of the robustness and usefulness of emotion. It is quite probable that the oppressive mechanism inherent in Confucian teachings on human development—i.e., the rigid and regulatory characteristic that overemphasizes or obsesses about rites, rules, decency, and norms—comes to a large extent from Confucius’s own relational and emotional vulnerability toward his parents. This paper suggests that Erik Erikson’s view on the psychosocial dimension of human development can usefully complement what Confucius did not pay much attention to in his lifelong efforts to cultivate human virtue. Indeed, Erikson shows that the robustness of emotion precedes the enrichment of cognition as well as the reinforcement of will and that it is nurtured by one’s caring and constructive relationships with significant others. In this regard, the caregiver’s role is to help males in Korea reconcile with their genuine selves in which cognition and will are in harmony with emotion.
KeywordsLife cycle Confucius Erik Erikson Virtue Lost object
I would like to thank Reggie Abraham, Ruben Arjona, Robert Dykstra, Danjuma Gibson, Jaco Hamman, Jay-Paul Hinds, Jason Hays, Ryan LaMothe, Hyon-Uk Shin, Jason Whitehead, Myounghun Yun, and Phil Zylla for their feedback on this paper, which was originally presented in Philadelphia, PA, at a pastoral theology conference at the Presbyterian Historical Society.
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