Analects Book 1: on motivation

Confucius never offered a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for people who followed his Way. He regarded it as everyone’s duty to cultivate their learning and behavior in line with his teachings, and it probably never occurred to him to offer them any encouragement or incentives to help them along this lonely and difficult path.

His students and disciples therefore had to learn to be self-reliant and understand that the only reward (if that is the right word to describe it) they could expect from following their master’s teachings was in successfully absorbing them and manifesting them in their daily lives. If they studied hard and conducted themselves properly there was a chance that they might be able to find a job as an official, but this was in no way guaranteed.

In Chapter XVI of Book 1, he also tells them that they shouldn’t expect anybody else to notice all their hard work and devotion either when he says “Don’t be concerned if people fail to recognize your merits; be concerned that you may fail to recognize theirs.”

Useful advice indeed – but of little comfort to those struggling to stick to the path he laid out for them. Perhaps if he had tried to motivate people in a more positive way, Confucius would have had more success in getting his teachings adopted in his lifetime.

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