Confucius said: “Smooth talk, pretentiousness, and obsequiousness: Zuoqiu Ming detested such behavior, and I detest it too. Acting friendly towards a person you secretly resent: Zuoqiu Ming detested such behavior, and I detest it too.”
Is there any harm in giving a few insincere compliments to people you meet at a party in order to stimulate conversation? So what if you secretly hate the dress that the guest you’re talking to is wearing if you bring a smile to her face by saying how nice she looks in it? Is there any harm either in exchanging a few friendly words with a bitter rival over a glass of wine? Who knows, you might even find a reason to like them.
What about attending a lavish conference in a luxurious resort to tackle the problem of global poverty when you know that the money could be put to better use funding a village school in a developing country? Or flying halfway across the world on a private jet to proudly proclaim your commitment to fighting climate change to your fellow glitterati?
Is it possible to “detest” all forms of hypocritical behavior like Confucius and Zuoqiu Ming clearly do? Or is to possible to take a more nuanced view by deciding that some forms of hypocrisy are more acceptable than others?
This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.
(1) Tradition has it that Zuoqiu Ming (左丘明) was a contemporary of Confucius and the court historian for the state of Lu. According to some accounts, he was author of the Commentary of Zuo (左傳/zuǒzhuán) – one of the earliest Chinese narrative histories and reportedly a gem of Chinese classical prose. You can read more about Zuoqiu Ming here.
I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.