Leadership lessons from Confucius: better pray to the kitchen god?

kitchen god

王孫賈問曰:「與其媚於奧,寧媚於灶,何謂也?」子曰:「不然,獲罪於天,吾所禱也。
Wangsun Jia asked: “What does this saying mean: ‘Better pray to the kitchen god rather than the household gods’?” Confucius said: “This is nonsense. If you sin against heaven, you have no god you can pray to.”

Be polite and friendly with everyone you come into contact with – not just people you think will be able to help you climb the career ladder. Flattering the boss might earn you a few brownie points, but your long-term success depends on your ability to work effectively with everybody.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) In ancient China people believed that if they made an offering to the kitchen god during the lunar new year festival, he would give a favorable report on their conduct to heaven. Since the other household gods didn’t have a direct line to heaven, people ignored them.

(2) Wangsun Jia was the chief minister of Duke Ling of Wei, the ruler of one of the states that Confucius visited in his fruitless quest for engagement as an advisor or senior official. No doubt feeling threatened by the arrival of the sage, he quotes this old proverb to Confucius to imply that Confucius would be advised to ask him for help rather than others because of his close connection to the duke. Confucius turns down the offer because he doesn’t want to become a pawn of the chief minister, but Wangsun Jia has the last laugh because the sage leaves Wei just as he arrived: jobless.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Taipei.

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