Leadership lessons from Confucius: asking questions

asking questions

子入太廟,每事問。或曰:「孰謂鄹人之子知禮乎?入太廟,每事問。」子聞之,曰:「是禮也。」
Whenever Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this son of a man from Zou is an expert on ritual? When he visits the Grand Ancestral Temple, he has to ask about everything that’s happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is ritual.” (1) (2)

Don’t be afraid of asking questions. There’s always something new to learn even if you’re already familiar with the subject under discussion. Don’t worry about ridiculed for asking them either. You should always take it as a compliment when someone wants to show that they’re superior to you.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 15 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) The Grand Ancestral Temple was dedicated to Confucius’s hero and founder of the state of Lu, the Duke of Zhou. Rulers of Lu took part in regular ritual ceremonies there to honor the duke.

(2) The anonymous man who questions whether Confucius is an expert on ritual is casting aspersions on his credentials by casually calling him “son of a man from Zou” rather than by his proper name. Confucius’s father, Shuliang He (叔梁紇), was a minor official of Zou (鄹/zōu), an insignificant backwater located to the southeast of the capital of Lu. Since his family came from a place that had previously had no ties to the culture and customs from the Zhou Dynasty that were followed in Lu, the anonymous man may also be implying that Confucius has no authority to comment on the ritual at all.

I took this image of the temple dedicated to Shuliang He on Nishan (尼山) – where, according to popular legend, Confucius was born and perhaps even conceived. You can read more about Nishan here.

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