Leadership lessons from Confucius: the cry of the ospreys

cry of the ospreys

子曰:「關睢,樂而不淫,哀而不傷。」
Confucius said: “The Cry of the Ospreys is joyful without being wanton and sad without being distressing.” (1)

Words matter – particularly at a time when they can be so easily misinterpreted the moment they’re published online. That’s why it’s so important to choose them wisely when speaking or writing so that they convey exactly the right meaning and tone.

Avoid indulging in hyperbole too. While promises to change the world or save it from the impending apocalypse may make you feel good, chances are that very few people will believe them. Be sure to maintain a sense of balance and proportion.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 20 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) The Cry of the Ospreys is the first poem in the Book of Songs. This name was used in the original English translation of the poem by James Legge and has stuck ever since, even though the bird in question might very well be a type of duck or water fowl. Not that it really matters, for this is a delightful poem. Here is a translation of it from John Thompson:

關關雎鳩,在河之州。
“Guan, guan,” trill the ospreys, upon the island in the creek.
窈窕淑女,君子好逑。
Modest is the gentle lady, the gentleman thinks her fine to seek.
參差荇菜,左右流之。
Uneven are the floating water plants, they flow by left and right.
窈窕淑女,寤寐求之。
Modest is the gentle beauty, he seeks her day and night.
求之不得,寤寐思服。
He seeks but cannot get her, he thinks of her day and night.
悠哉悠哉,輾轉反側。
Sad and anxious thoughts, twisting and turning in his plight.
參差荇菜,左右採之。
Uneven are the floating water plants, they can be picked left and right.
窈窕淑女,琴瑟友之。
Modest is the gentle beauty, qin and se zithers her friendship invite.
參差荇菜,左右芼之。
Uneven are the floating water plants, they can be gathered left and right.
窈窕淑女,鐘鼓樂之。
Modest is the gentle beauty, with bells and drums we bring her delight.

I took this image at the Confucius Temple on Nishan (尼山) – the hill on which, according to popular belief, Confucius was born and possibly even conceived. You can read more about Nishan here.

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