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Guest Blog Post: I Think Confucius Knew A Few Good Funeral Directors

May 10, 2012

ASD Reward Partner, Timothy J. O’Brien M.S., is a Fellow of the American Institute of Stress and a Life Member of the International Society for Performance Improvement. Tim has been the Director of the Institute for Stress Management and Performance Improvement, since 1989. He has written articles for and presented at NFDA conventions and State Funeral Directors Association annual meetings.

Tim is also the author of the Grief Support Programs: A Season for Healing, A Reason for Hope: the Grief & Mourning Guide and Journal, and the Pet-Loss Grief Program: You will always be a part of me. He has published more than 400 print articles and wrote a bi-weekly “Life styles” column for Knight Ridder Tribune News and McClatchy newspaper services for 14 years. You can contact Tim at (850) 668-0696 or

Confucius (551-497 B.C.E.), the great Chinese philosopher, is known for his high moral values as taught through his famous aphorisms. Who among us hasn’t heard, or most likely in jest said; “Confucius say…”

Reportedly, he was once asked, “What are the most important virtues for leading a successful, moral, and fulfilling life?” His answer leads me to believe that he knew some good Funeral Directors, because what he said describes their qualities. In his customary brevity, he said the most important virtues were; humility, compassion, patience, and detachment.

Okay, I know “humility” caused more than one smirk among those reading, and perhaps “patience” got a few snickers too, however, I come to Funeral Directors’ defense in suggesting we should not confuse confidence with a lack of humility, and the intolerance of poor quality and inefficiency should not be seen as impatience.

Let’s look at each of Confucius’ four virtues in the context of a Funeral Director’s life.

Humility: The constant proximity to death and the bereavement of survivors has etched a lasting memory of the fragility and ephemerality of Life in the Funeral Directors that I’ve had contact with. Yes, they also often have a fully developed, while sometimes slightly macabre, sense of humor, but under that, there is a recognition of an underlying dignity and respect due to the remains of a human, no longer with us and entrusted to their care. I believe this is humility.

Compassion: Seeing the fracturing of dreams and dislocation of families that death causes, coupled with so many grieving survivors looking to them for support and consolation, Funeral Directors develop a compassion for others that is often the basis of their continued dedication and involvement with their Profession.

Patience: If any group knows the validity of the Persian saying, “this too shall pass,” and the Biblical statement, “to everything there is a season…a time to be born and a time to die,” it is Funeral Directors. And once the profound truth embedded in these sayings is realized, a delicate dichotomy comes over the person: they develop both the patience of a monk, and an intensity for life of a person who knows they do not have “that long” to live.

Detachment: Often seen as being aloof, uncaring, or non-concerned, true detachment is the embodiment of the other three virtues that Confucius named. When humility and compassion have taught a person patience, one becomes the observer of the play of Life. You participate. You hope to do your part in the play very well, contributing in a constructive way.

Funeral Directors are very much like this. They help to arrange the final services or celebrations of Life. They want every aspect to be meaningful, memorable, and dignified. And, although they are at the services and celebrations, they realize it is about the families they serve, about creating lasting memories and helping with closure and healing, not about them. They do not know every family they serve, but they serve everyone like they are family. They are respectful, compassionate, and concerned, but not directly involved with the emotions of the situation.

I believe it would be a very good idea for every Funeral Director to step back, look into the mirror and realize, if he knew you, Confucius would agree with the code you live by. Be confident in your contribution, and know that what you do matters in a significant way.

Click here to read more guest blog posts from Tim O’Brien.

About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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