Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a second chance

second chance

子謂公冶長,「可妻也。雖在縲絏之中,非其罪也。」以其子妻之。
Confucius said of Gongye Chang: “He would make a good husband. Although he has spent time in prison, he was innocent.” He gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage. (1) (2)

Everyone has said or done something dumb in the past. Does that mean that they should be denied the chance of a job or perhaps even have their current livelihood taken away from them because someone has dredged up a drunken post or image from the murky depths of the internet?

Some people have committed crimes in the past. Should that disqualify them from having a second chance to become productive members of society when they have completed their sentence?

Nobody has any idea why Gongye Chang was sent to prison or whether he was innocent or guilty of the crime he was incarcerated for. All we do know is that there was something in his character that persuaded Confucius to take the brave decision to flout social convention by giving the hand of his daughter in marriage to him.

Would you have the courage to give someone a second chance when the safer option would be to offer the opportunity to somebody else with an unblemished past?

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 1 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) Gongye Chang appears to have justified the faith that Confucius showed in him. He became a renowned scholar and teacher and is said to have been offered many opportunities to become a government official or minister because of his talent. You can read more about him here.

(2) No records of Confucius’s daughter exist, not even her name. Confucius’s willingness to challenge social convention by taking a criminal as a son-in-law didn’t extend to giving his daughter a choice of husband.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple. Established in 1666, this is the oldest Confucius Temple in Taiwan and in my opinion at least the most beautiful one on the island.

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