Going Confucian

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Nguyen Ngoc Dien concluded a recent editorial with a stirring line: "A community cannot be considered civilized when each person enjoys his or her life in a manner that is directly detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of others". [Thanh Nien Weekly No. 72]

Other articles featured in issue 72 of Thanh Nien Weekly included articles about widespread traffic violations and crackdowns on sidewalk vendors.

As a foreigner who has resided in Vietnam for the last 14 years (both in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) I sometimes wonder why a segment of Vietnamese people, people who are normally so friendly and hospitable, has seemingly lost all manners and shows hardly any sign of social or civic responsibility.

I understand that street vendors try to make a living and that many of them, like those who sell newspapers, sweets or coffee in the street, are useful to people in the area. But why would I as a pedestrian have to step down into the crowded and dangerous street because an occasional vendor has put his or her assortment of helmets or books on the sidewalk which I am supposed to use?

The young neighbor in my alley, who gets his "ca fe da" every morning from a street vendor, simply throws the empty cup wrapped in a small plastic bag into the palm trees opposite our house. Other people use this tiny bit of urban green to get rid of their rubbish. Needless to say that the rats are happy with this!

The old gentleman who lives opposite of our house and myself sweep our part of the alley every day. And we regularly clean up other people's rubbish. These people don't seem to bother. But I believe that as a member of this society, any society actually, each one of us has a social and civic responsibility toward our fellow human beings, also by respecting and protecting the environment we live in.

Confucius wrote: "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others." In other terms, our freedom ends where we encroach on the freedom of others.

Margrit Schlosser
Country Representative
Terre des hommes Foundation - Lausanne
Ho Chi Minh City

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