Leadership lessons from Confucius: the other three corners of the square

other three corners of the square

子曰:「不憤不啟,不悱不發。舉一隅不以三隅反,則不復也。」
Confucius said: “I instruct only the passionate. I enlighten only the fervent. If a student cannot return with the other three corners of the square after I have shown then the first one, I will not repeat the lesson.” (1)

There’s no substitute for enthusiasm when it comes to learning. If you don’t show any passion for a subject, you can’t expect anyone else to go out of their way to help you make progress in it.

The ability to think for yourself is also vital. Once someone else has taught you the basic principles of subject, it’s your turn to show your grasp of them by using what you have learned to solve practical problems. Simply memorizing your lessons is insufficient to build up proficiency and expertise in a subject. You have to be prepared to get your hands dirty.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Confucius favored a heuristic approach to learning that encouraged practical and creative thinking among his followers and students. Unfortunately, this aspect of his teaching philosophy was crushed by the emphasis on rote learning that subsequently suffused the “Confucian” education system with its emphasis on preparing candidates for the imperial examinations. Indeed, Confucius himself has been unjustly vilified for stifling creativity and independent thinking among generations of Chinese students even until the present day.

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

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