Leadership lessons from Confucius: stick to your principles

stick to your principles

子曰:「聖人,吾不得而見之矣,得見君子者,斯可矣。」子曰:「善人,吾不得而見之矣,得見有恒者,斯可矣。亡而為有,虛而為盈,約而為泰,難乎有恒矣。」
Confucius said: “I have no hope of ever meeting a great sage; I suppose I would be content to meet a true leader.” Confucius said: “I cannot ever hope to meet a perfect person; I suppose I would be content to meet someone who sticks to their principles. Yet in an age when nothing masquerades as something, emptiness masquerades as fullness, and penury masquerades as affluence, it is hard enough just to stick to your principles.”

Even if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that doesn’t mean you have a free pass to give up your own principles. Just because you have no role models around you to inspire you, it doesn’t mean that you can give up on striving to do better. Indeed, their very absence it makes it all the more important that you stick to your principles and values so that you can provide the example that others long to follow.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Confucius lived in tumultuous times riddled with greed, hypocrisy, and brutality. He longed for a great figure like to his hero, the Duke of Zhou, to rise from the cesspool to restore the nation to its former glory. Judging by the melancholic, perhaps even melodramatic, tone of this passage, it probably comes from the latter part of Confucius’s life when he realized that even he wouldn’t be able to achieve his dream of restoring China to its former glories.

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

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