Leadership lessons from Confucius: balanced and calm

balanced and calm

曾子曰:「以能問於不能,以多問於寡,有若無,實若虛,犯而不校,昔者吾友,嘗從事於斯矣。」
Zengzi said: “Capable but willing to listen to those who are not capable; talented but willing to listen to those without talent; viewing having as the same as not having; viewing fullness as the same as emptiness; accepting insults without bearing a grudge: long ago, I had a friend who practiced these things.”

Modesty and openness are the keys to achieving the golden mean. Whenever you meet someone, ignore your preconceptions about them and listen to what they have to say. Chances are that they have an interesting perspective to share with you and something useful to teach you.

When things are going well for you, don’t get too excited and take your newfound success as a reflection of your superior talent. By the same token, when things are going badly for you don’t get too despondent and beat yourself up about it. The pendulum will eventually swing back in the opposite direction.

If others go after you for no reason, take the criticism on the chin and bear no ill will towards them. Their unpleasantness is probably more of a reflection of the dissatisfaction they are experiencing with their own life than a sign of animosity towards you.

Above all, stay balanced and calm. Embrace every experience that life brings you – negative or positive. There’s always something new to learn about yourself and the world around you.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.

(1) It is commonly agreed that Zengzi is referring to Confucius’s favorite follower Yan Hui in this passage. Given that Yan Hui died in around 489 BCE when Zengzi was just 16 years of age, Zengzi is probably being a little generous with the truth in describing him as an old friend of his.  You can read more about Yan Hui here.

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

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