A life journey

子曰:「吾十有五而志于學,三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命,六十而耳順,七十而從心所欲,不踰矩。」
Confucius said: “At fifteen, I applied my mind to learning. At thirty, I set my course. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the will of Heaven. At sixty my ear was attuned. At seventy, I followed all my heart’s desires without overstepping the line.”

This is a a famous snapshot of Confucius’s life journey from his teenage years to the final ones approaching his death. Continue reading A life journey

Analects of Confucius: on the nature of a leader

Throughout the Analects, Confucius and his disciples regularly muse about the qualities required of a leader (君子/jūnzǐ), a term which has been variously translated as “gentleman”, “nobleman”, “superior man”, “man of superior order”, “man of virtue”, and “ideal man”. Confucius saw the leader as a pillar of society and the embodiment of all the moral values he espoused. There are numerous discussions of the nature of a leader in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on the nature of a leader

Leadership by virtue

子曰:「道之以政,齊之以刑,民免而無恥;道之以德,齊之以禮,有恥且格。」
Confucius said: “If you rule people by laws and regulations and keep them under control through punishment, they will evade them and have no sense of shame. If you lead them by virtue and keep them in line with the rites, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you.”

Whenever politicians are faced with a problem, their instinctive response is to pass a raft of new legislative initiatives to “solve” it. While in the short term this approach may give the illusion that they are “doing something” (not to mention generating some handy headlines), in the long term it has the highly corrosive effect of widening the gap between the governing and the governed and increasing the intrusion of the state into individuals’ lives. Continue reading Leadership by virtue

Analects of Confucius: on virtue

Virtue (德/) is a key ethical term with a range of meanings that shift with context. It is sometimes also translated as “moral power” in the sense that it creates its own environment, radiates influence, and attracts followers. A true leader leads simply by being virtuous rather than trying to persuade or compel their people to follow their ways. A large number of references to virtue can be found in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on virtue

Think no evil

子曰:「詩三百,一言以蔽之,曰:思無邪。」
Confucius said: “There are three hundred poems in the Book of Songs, but the meaning of them can be summed up in a single phrase: ‘Hey, do not stray from the right path’.”

The next time you are sat in a meeting being baffled by buzzwords and jargon, just be grateful that you’re not attending a ceremonial function at the court of a ruler in Ancient China. Rather than voice their opinions directly, etiquette required that officials and ministers had to quote from the classical cannon when giving the ruler the benefit of their wisdom. Continue reading Think no evil