Hidden talent

子曰:「不患人之不己之,患不知人也。」
Confucius said: “Don’t be concerned if people fail to recognize your merits; be concerned that you may fail to recognize theirs.”

Book 1 of the Analects ends on a similar note to the one it started on. The leader focuses on following the right path without worrying about what others think. Their goal is not to impress people, but to do the right thing.

Like carving and polishing stones

子貢曰:「貧而無諂,富而無驕,何如?」子曰:「可也,未若貧而樂,富而好禮者也。」子貢曰:「詩云:『如切如磋,如琢如磨』,其斯之謂與?」子曰:「賜也,始可與言詩已矣,告諸往而知來者。」
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” Confucius said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves ritual.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! I only have to tell you what came before, and you can work out what comes next!”

“Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.” I can’t think of a better metaphor for the process of self-cultivation than this line from the Book of Songs that Zigong quotes to Confucius during their bout of poetic banter. I suppose that the modern day equivalent would be “sharpening the saw”. Continue reading Like carving and polishing stones

Moderation and self-cultivation

子曰:「君子食無求飽,居無求安,敏於事而慎於言,就有道而正焉,可謂好學也已。」
Confucius said: “A leader eats without stuffing his belly; chooses a home without demanding comfort; is quick to act but careful in what he says; and keeps the company of others who possess the Way so that he can be corrected by them. This is what it means to truly love learning.”

Leadership is about cultivating your inner self rather than being concerned about personal comforts. This is a theme that Confucius regularly returns to throughout the Analects, hammering home the need for moderation and adherence to traditional values. Continue reading Moderation and self-cultivation

Primary and secondary virtues

有子曰:「信近於義,言可復也。恭近於禮,遠恥辱也。因不失其親,亦可宗也。」
Youzi said: “Trustworthiness is close to rightness because it means that your word can be counted on. Reverence is close to ritual because it means that you avoid shame and disgrace. Never losing sight of these virtues is worthy of respect.”

(義) is another term that doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. I have translated it here as “rightness”— as in having the moral disposition to do the right thing or act in the right way in any given situation. Alternatives include righteousness, propriety, and morality. Continue reading Primary and secondary virtues

Perfect harmony

有子曰:「禮之用,和為貴。先王之道,斯為美,小大由之,有所不行,知和而和,不以禮節之,亦不可行也。」
Youzi said: “When practicing the rites, harmony is the key. This is what made the Way of the ancient kings so beautiful and inspired their every action, no matter how great or small. But they also knew where to draw the line, recognizing that if harmony is not governed by ritual everything will fall out of balance.”

There is no perfect translation for the term (禮), a central tenet of Confucius’s teachings. I’ve chosen to settle with “ritual”; though it could be alternatively rendered as “rites”, “rules”, “rules of proprietary”, “rules of behavior”, “courtesy”, “manners”, or perhaps even “etiquette” or “ethics”. Continue reading Perfect harmony