Ready for battle

子曰:「善人教民七年,亦可以即戎矣。」
Confucius said: “After a good ruler has taught the people for seven years they are ready for battle.”

子曰:「以不教民戰,是謂棄之。」
Confucius said: “Sending people to war who have not been properly taught is the same as throwing them away.”

Even though his teachings were focused on promoting peace and stability, Confucius was pragmatic enough to realize that there are times when war is unavoidable and that a ruler needs to prepare his people for such an event. Continue reading Ready for battle

A true gentleman

子曰:「剛毅木訥,近仁。」
Confucius said: “Firmness, determination, simplicity, modesty: these bring us close to goodness.”

子路問曰:「何如斯可謂之士矣?」子曰:「切切偲偲,怡怡如也,可謂士矣。朋友切切偲偲,兄弟怡怡。」
Zilu asked: “What qualities must you possess to be called a true gentleman?” Confucius said: “Supportive, encouraging, and affectionate: such a man deserves to be called a true gentleman. Supportive and encouraging towards his friends and affectionate towards his brothers.”

There is no big mystical secret to achieving goodness. Firmness, determination, simplicity, and modesty go a long way to help you achieving that state. Continue reading A true gentleman

A contrast in leadership styles

子曰:「君子易事而難說也,說之不以道,不說也,及其使人也,器之。小人難事而易說也,說之雖不以道,說也,及其使人也,求備焉。」
Confucius said: “A leader is easy to work for but hard to please. If you try to please him without following the proper way he will not be happy, but he will only give you tasks you have the ability to carry out. A petty person is hard to work for, but easy to please. If you try to please him, even without following the proper way, he will be happy, but he demands that you have the ability to do anything.”

This passage perfectly encapsulates the difference between a good leader and a poor leader. A good leader makes a realistic assessment of his people’s abilities and enables them to make the best use of them by placing them in the most appropriate position and making sure that they follow the right processes. Continue reading A contrast in leadership styles

Like or loathe

子貢問曰:「鄉人皆好之,何如?」子曰:「未可也。」「鄉人皆惡之,何如?」子曰:「未可也。不如鄉人之善者好之,其不善者惡之。」
Zigong asked: “If a man is liked by all the people in his village, what would you think?” Confucius said: “That’s not good enough.” “And if he is loathed by all the people in the village, what would you think?” “That is not good enough either. It would be better if the good people in the village liked him and the bad people loathed him.”

Leadership is not a popularity contest. You can’t please all the people all the time – and neither should you even try to. Instead you should focus on making the right decisions that best serve the interests of the people you are leading. Continue reading Like or loathe

Harmony versus conformity

子曰:「君子和而不同,小人同而不和。」
Confucius said: “A leader strives for harmony but not conformity. A petty person strives for conformity but not harmony.”

The Analects is full of pithy comparisons between the behavior of a leader (君子/jūnzǐ) and a petty person (小人/xiǎorén). This is definitely up there among the best ones. Continue reading Harmony versus conformity

Steadfast in virtue

子曰:「南人有言曰:『人而無恒,不可以作巫醫。』善夫!『不恒其德,或承之羞。』」子曰:「不占而已矣。」
Confucius said: “Southerners have a saying: ‘A man who isn’t steadfast isn’t fit to be a shaman.’ This is so true! The Book of Changes says, ‘if you’re not steadfast in virtue, you will suffer disgrace.’” Confucius added: “Not even a divination will be of any use for a person like that.”

This is, shall we say, a rather cryptic passage that is open to multiple interpretations. It also features one of the one of the very few references to the Book of Changes that can be found in the Analects in the form of a quote from Hexagram 32 (constancy or steadfastness). Continue reading Steadfast in virtue

The crazy and the cautious

子曰:「不得中行而與之,必也狂狷乎?狂者進取,狷者有所不為也。」
Confucius said: “If you can’t find people who keep to the middle way to associate with, you will have to settle for the crazy or the cautious. The crazy dare to do anything to achieve their goals, but the cautious will never get their hands dirty.”

Unlike the modern-day sage Jack Ma, who has famously advocated hiring the craziest rather than the most qualified people, Confucius preferred balanced individuals who stuck to the middle way between, for example, the polarities of courage and fear. Continue reading The crazy and the cautious