Confucius said to his followers: “My friends, do you think I’m hiding something from you? I’m hiding nothing at all. There’s nothing I do without sharing it with you. That’s my way.”
It’s always tempting to believe that someone who appears to be more successful than you has some secret sauce that would enable you to achieve similar heights if only they would reveal it to you. That’s certainly what some of Confucius’s followers thought as they listened to their master’s teachings and watched him in action. It’s also what many people are searching for when they read self-help books today.
As Confucius attempts to explain in this passage, however, there is no magic formula that will make you healthier, wealthier, and wiser than the rest of us. Of course, you can learn a huge amount by reading the great philosophers such as Confucius, Laozi, Aristotle, and Plato and the biographies and autobiographies of great political, military, and business leaders. But that is only the first step in the process. Even more importantly, you need to figure out how to apply the lessons and insights you’ve gleaned from the texts to your actions and behavior in your daily life and optimize them for the specific circumstances you are dealing with.
With his teachings, Confucius’s goal was to provide an ethical and intellectual framework for appropriate action. His aim was to provide his followers with a toolkit that they could draw on when they needed to resolve the challenges they encountered in their family, social, and professional lives. If that was insufficient for them, there was nothing more he could do to help them.
In other words, while other people can help point the way for us, the only place we can find the secret sauce we’re looking for is deep inside ourselves.
This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.