Leadership lessons from Confucius: the basic recipe for your secret sauce

子以四教:文,行,忠,信。
Confucius covered four subjects in his teaching: culture; conduct; loyalty; and trustworthiness. (1)

Confucius defined four key ingredients in the basic recipe that an individual needed to formulate in order to create their very own brand of secret sauce.

Culture (文/wén) not only comprised what came to be known as the “Five Classics” (五經/ wǔjīng), such as The Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng) and The Book of Documents (書經/shūjīng); but also included the so-called “Six Arts” (六藝) of ritual, music, calligraphy, mathematics, archery, and charioteering.

Mastery of these subjects and skills provided the individual with the basic intellectual and ethical ingredient for leading a productive and ethical life. However, even the deepest theoretical knowledge had no flavor without being put to practical use through exemplary conduct in daily life.

Further seasoning also needed to be added through unflinching loyalty to family, friends, and the ruler of the state, as well trustworthiness or integrity in dealings with other people.

With constant fine-tuning, these four ingredients came together to form a balanced and nutritious meal that would sustain the individual through the highs and lows of life and keep him on the right path.

While certain cultural elements may have changed, the basic recipe for creating your own secret sauce remains the same even today. Which ones do you need to pay a little more attention to in order to make sure it tastes just right?

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 24 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Some commentators interpret the meaning of the character 忠 (zhōng) as “to do your utmost”. This is a plausible definition.

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

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