The Golden Rule reprised

仲弓問仁。子曰:「出門如見大賓,使民如承大祭。己所不欲,勿施於人。在邦無怨,在家無怨。」仲弓曰:「雍雖不敏,請事斯語。」
Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you are away from home, act towards everyone as if you are meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you are conducting a great sacrifice. Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “I may not be particularly bright, but with your blessing I will strive to follow your guidance.”

The essence of goodness can be summed up in this variation of the famous “Golden Rule” of reciprocity first mentioned by Zigong in Chapter XII of Book 5 of the Analects. “Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself” (己所不欲,勿施於人) is as good a maxim as any to live by – though not always easy to follow.

The ritualistic protestations of false modesty by Yan Hui and Ran Yong at the end of the first two chapters are irritating. The Analects is at its best when it conveys the authentic voice of Confucius and his disciples. Insipid “reimaginations” like these only serve to weaken its message.

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