Leadership lessons from Confucius: in person

in person

祭如在,祭神如神在。子曰:「吾不與祭,如不祭。」
Sacrifice to your ancestors as if they are present; sacrifice to the deities as if they are present. Confucius said: “If you don’t attend a sacrifice in person, you’re not there in spirit either.” (1) (2)

You can’t be in two places at once. Choose the meetings and events you are invited to attend wisely. Make sure that you go to the most important ones and participate in them fully. Otherwise, you won’t get the most out of them. 

Sending a representative to an important gathering doesn’t make up for not attending it in person. You can’t take part by proxy.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 12 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) The character 祭 (jì) usually means “to sacrifice” or “to hold a sacrifice”, but in Confucius’s time it popularly meant “to sacrifice to your ancestors”.

(2) The first half of the passage urges people to take rituals seriously by participating in them fully rather than simply attending them out of duty. Confucius goes further by criticizing members of the ruling class of Lu for sending other people to represent them at important ritual ceremonies. This was a popular practice at the time, no doubt because of how long they went on for. Presumably, unless you were a ritual nerd like Confucius, they weren’t that interesting either.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Beijing. You can read more about it here.

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