Not just a vessel

Like any good teacher, Confucius was an astute observer of human character. He may also have been an amateur psychologist as well, though that would be mere speculation on my part.

Even though Confucius drew much of the inspiration for his philosophy from a (no doubt mythical) golden age in the past, that didn’t mean he wasn’t a flexible or wide-ranging thinker or that he wasn’t open to new ideas.

Indeed, as he points out in Chapter XII of Book 2 of the Analects, Confucius expected a leader to be much more than simply a receptacle of knowledge accumulated from years of arduous study of the classics. They also had to know how to apply it in real life as a government official or an active member of the local gentry contributing towards the smooth running of their local district.

子曰:「視其所以,觀其所由,察其所安。人焉廋哉?人焉廋哉?」
Confucius said: “Observe a man’s motives, examine how he pursues them, and find out what makes him feel at peace. How then can he conceal his true character? How then can he conceal his true character?”

子曰:「溫故而知新,可以為師矣。」
Confucius said: “A man who brings new meaning to the old in order to understand the new is worthy of being a teacher.”

子曰:「君子不器。」
Confucius said: “A leader is not a vessel.”

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