Leadership lessons from Confucius: on dining with someone in mourning

mourning

子食於有喪者之側,未嘗飽也。子於是日哭,則不歌。
When Confucius dined with someone in mourning, he never ate his fill. On a day when he had been weeping, Confucius never sang. (1) (2)

When you attend a funeral or visit someone in mourning, your purpose is to pay your respects and offer your condolences. If you are offered something to eat and drink, you should of course accept the invitation but exercise restraint on how much you consume. You are there to show your empathy and support for the person who is grieving their loss – not to disturb the mood by drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.

The end of the gathering isn’t the time to breathe a deep sigh of relief and return to everyday life. It should be used an opportunity to reflect on the life of the person who’s departed and the grief that surviving relatives are experiencing. There will be plenty of occasions in the future for singing and dancing.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 9 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Some editions of the Analects divide this passage into two chapters. Although the text doesn’t explicitly state it, I suspect that Confucius’s refusal to sing after weeping is connected to mourning so I have kept the two sentences together in a single chapter.

(2) Confucius placed great importance on matching his behavior to the needs of specific occasions. See Chapter 4 of Book 7 for another example.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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