A bucket or scoop

子貢問曰:「何如斯可謂之士矣?」子曰:「行己有恥,使於四方,不辱君命,可謂士矣。」曰:「敢問其次?」曰:「宗族稱孝焉,鄉黨稱弟焉。」曰:「敢問其次?」曰:「言必信,行必果;硜硜然,小人哉!抑亦可以為次矣。」曰:「今之從政者何如?」子曰:「噫!斗筲之人,何足算也!」
Zigong asked: “What qualities must one possess to be called a true gentleman?” Confucius said: “A man who maintains a sense of humility and can be sent on a mission to the four corners of the earth without bringing disgrace to his ruler can be called a true gentleman.” “May I ask what type of man ranks one step below that?” “A man who is praised by his relatives for his filial piety and who is known by the people of his neighborhood for being respectful towards his elders.” “May I ask what type of man ranks one step below that?” “A man whose word can be trusted and who completes whatever task he undertakes. In his stubborn determination, he may resemble a petty person, but he could still probably qualify as a gentleman of a lower rank.” “How would you rate the men currently involved in public affairs?” “Sadly, these are men you measure by a bucket or scoop. They’re not even worth mentioning.”

Even though he had no spreadsheet program to help him, Confucius built up remarkably detailed “models” of behavior for the aspiring gentleman or leader to follow and the qualities that he needed to nurture in order to ascend the hierarchy.

If you strip away the archaic and sexist language, these core values remain pretty much the same as those that we subscribe to today and expect people in the public eye to follow (though we would probably put less emphasis on filial piety and respect for the elderly).

Our opinion of contemporary public figures probably hasn’t changed much either. The vast majority of them remain the type of people “you measure by a bucket or scoop”, as Confucius so witheringly describes them.

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