Leadership lessons from Confucius: forgive and forget

forgive and forget

子曰:「伯夷叔齊,不念舊惡,怨是用希。」
Confucius said: “Boyi and Shuqi never bore grudges, so they rarely aroused any resentment from others.” (1)

Forgive and forget. The only person you’ll hurt by holding a grudge against is yourself. Revenge is a dish best never served at all. The taste of it will leave you bitter and sore.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) The tale of the brothers Boyi and Shuqi is a curious one. It’s difficult to understand why Confucius was such a fan of them. Born in the early part of the 11th century BCE, Boyi and Shuqi were the sons of a ruler of the minor state of Guzhu during the time when the ruling Shang Dynasty was collapsing under the dissolute rule of its last emperor Di Xin. When their father chose the younger Shuqi as his successor, Shuqi declined the offer. His elder brother Boyi then refused the throne as well, insisting that his younger brother take it. Rather than fight with each other over who was the rightful ruler, the two brothers fled to the nearby state of Zhou. But when King Wu, the new ruler of Zhou, immediately took up arms against the collapsing Shang Dynasty after the death of his father, the two brothers were so appalled at the lack of filial devotion he displayed in not completing the required period of mourning and in planning to attack his sovereign emperor that they reportedly seized the reins of Wu’s chariot to prevent him from setting off to war.

Although the Boyi and Shuqi were saved from certain death at the hands of Wu’s angry guards by a kindly general who recognized the strength of their moral convictions, the brothers were ignored and the army continued on its way. In protest, Boyi and Shuqi refused to eat any produce from the state of Zhou and retired to the wilderness of Shanxi province where they reportedly lived only on fiddlehead ferns until they were told by some kindly soul that even these humble plants were now the property of Zhou. As a result, they stopped eating them and died of starvation. You can read more about Boyi and Shuqi here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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