Confucius on wisdom

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樊遲問知。子曰:「務民之義,敬鬼神而遠之,可謂知矣。」問仁。曰:「仁者先難而後獲,可謂仁矣。」
Fan Chi asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Work to ensure rightness among the people; respect the spirits and gods but keep them at a distance. This is wisdom.” Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “A good man is first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to reap the rewards. This is goodness.”

In this context wisdom is an action or a mode of conduct rather than an attribute that has been built up as a result of long years of study and experience. It consists of working for the common good by making sure that the people behave kindly and respectfully towards each other and observe the appropriate rituals that bind them together.

Goodness means having the courage and resolve to take the steps that are necessary to achieve this goal no matter what the personal cost may be without any guarantee of being rewarded for it. Selflessness is the hallmark of wise leadership.

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