Leadership lessons from Confucius: words of tribute

words of tribute

子貢問曰:「孔文子何以謂之文也?」子曰:「敏而好學,不恥下問,是以謂之文也。」
Zigong asked: “Why was ‘Kong-the-Refined’ given the posthumous name of ‘Refined’?” Confucius said: “He was smart, fond of learning, and wasn’t ashamed to listen and learn from people of a lower social status: that is why he was given the name.” (1) (2)

What would you like to be remembered for after you shuffle off this mortal coil? What words of tribute would you like to hear at your funeral or chiseled into your gravestone? That you were a beloved parent, loving spouse, or faithful friend? Or perhaps all three?

Maybe you feel a tad more ambitious and hope to be remembered by generation after generation for your greatness by having a grand edifice named after you or your bust carved in the finest marble for the benefit posterity. Or perhaps, you simply want to slip away with as little pomp as possible, saving your family the cost of a fancy funeral.

No matter how you want to be remembered, focus on doing the best that you can in the here and now so that you leave the world a little better than you found it. That’s the only thing that really counts.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 15 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) According to Chinese tradition, emperors, kings, nobles, and high officials were given a posthumous name highlighting their merits and achievements.

(2) Kong Yu (孔圉) was a minister of the state of Wei who died in about 480 BCE. Although Confucius argues forcefully that he deserved the posthumous name of ‘Kong-the-Refined’ (孔文子), other sources portray him as being a rather unsavory character notorious for his disloyalty and dissoluteness. Hence, no doubt, Zigong’s question. You can read more about Kong here

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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