The five virtues and four vices

子張問於孔子曰:「何如斯可以從政矣?」子曰:「尊五美,屏四惡,斯可以從政矣。」子張曰:「何謂五美?」子曰:「君子惠而不費,勞而不怨,欲而不貪,泰而不驕;威而不猛。」子張曰:「何謂惠而不費?」子曰:「因民之所利而利之,斯不亦惠而不費乎?擇可勞而勞之,又誰怨!欲仁而得仁,又焉貪!君子無眾寡,無小大,無敢慢,斯不亦泰而不驕乎!君子正其衣冠,尊其瞻視,儼然人望而畏之,斯不亦威而不猛乎!」子張曰:「何謂四惡?」子曰:「不教而殺謂之虐,不戒視成謂之暴,慢令致期謂之賊,猶之與人也,出納之吝,謂之有司。」
Zizhang asked Confucius: “What qualities must you have in order to be fit to take part in government?” Confucius said: “If you cultivate the five virtues and cast out the four vices you are fit to govern.”

Zizhang asked: “What are the five virtues?” Confucius said: “A leader is generous without having to spend anything; he inspires people to work hard without complaining; he is ambitious without being greedy; he is confident without being arrogant; he is imposing without being frightening.”

Zizhang said: “How can you be ‘generous without having to spend anything’?” Confucius said: “If you let the people take advantage of what is beneficial for them, aren’t you being generous without having to spend anything? If you assign the people to work on tasks that are reasonable, who will complain? If your ambition is to be good and you accomplish it, how can you be greedy? If a leader treats everyone equally no matter whether they are many or few or humble or great, he is confident without being arrogant. If a leader wears his robe and cap correctly, his gaze is straight, and he carries himself with a dignified air that inspires the people’s awe, he is imposing but not frightening.”

Zizhang said: “What are the four vices?” Confucius said: “If you execute people without attempting to reform them you are being cruel; if you carry out an inspection of a public works project without giving a prior warning you are being tyrannical; if you expect the immediate completion of a project after being slow to approve it, you are acting like a thief; if you are tight-fisted in paying people what is rightfully theirs, you are being bureaucratic.”

This passage features another reprise of a common theme of Confucius’s teachings: namely, that people in power have a responsibility to treat the common people in the same way that they would expect to be treated.

How can a leader expect the people below them to be good if he behaves badly himself? How can he expect the people to respond enthusiastically if he makes unreasonable demands on them and refuses to pay them their rightful due? To find out the answers to these questions, the leader has to look deep inside himself first rather than seek to blame others.

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