Leadership lessons from Confucius: riches and rank

riches and rank

子曰:「富與貴,是人之所欲也,不以其道得之,不處也。貧與賤,是人之惡也,不以其道得之,不去也。君子去仁,惡乎成名。君子無終食之間違仁,造次必於是,顛沛必於是。」
Confucius said: “Riches and rank are what people desire; but if they can only obtain them through improper ways, they should not pursue them. Poverty and obscurity are what people detest; but if they can only escape from them through improper ways, they should accept them. If a leader abandons goodness, how can he live up to that name? A leader never abandons goodness, even for as long as it takes to eat a single meal; in moments of haste and confusion he still stays true to it.”

How to stick to your core values and beliefs through thick and thin? The lure of “riches and rank” and the fear of “poverty and obscurity” are too great for most mere mortals to resist. A true leader is as rare as a pearl in an oyster bed. Or perhaps one doesn’t really exist except as an ideal to aspire to.

Perhaps the best we can do is to stick to the path as closely as possible and steer ourselves back on course whenever we veer off it.

Note

This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.

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