Path to goodness

LFG33

子貢曰:「如有博施於民,而能濟眾,何如?可謂仁乎?」子曰:「何事於仁,必也聖乎!堯舜其猶病諸!夫仁者,己欲立而立人,己欲達而達人。能近取譬,可謂仁之方也已。」
Zigong said: “What if far-reaching policies were implemented among the people that benefited the masses? Could that be described as goodness?” Confucius said: “Such an action labeled as goodness could almost be described as perfection. Even Yao and Shun would not be able to match it! Good people help others get on their feet before themselves and empower them to achieve their goals before they achieve their own. When good examples can be followed in your immediate vicinity, it can be said that you are on the right track to benevolence.”

Where does the path to goodness start: with the enlightened policies of a virtuous ruler or simple acts of individual kindness? This is the question that is addressed in the final chapter of Book 6 of the Analects.

Perhaps because he saw far too many big government failures, the answer for Confucius is that goodness begins with the individual. By helping others to “get on their feet” and “achieve their goals”, good people can set the right example for the rest of society to follow.

Even with the best will in the world, it is next-to-impossible for a leader to implement goodness with a top-down approach. As Confucius points out to Zigong, not even the two mythical sage kings Yao and Shun, who were venerated as models of wise and benign leadership, were able to achieve this.

Better, therefore, to take a gradual bottom-up tack.

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