Leadership lessons from Confucius: final words of wisdom

final words of wisdom

曾子有疾,孟敬子問之。曾子言曰:「鳥之將死,其鳴也哀;人之將死,其言也善。君子所貴乎道者三:動容貌,斯遠暴慢矣;正顏色,斯近信矣;出辭氣,斯遠鄙倍矣。籩豆之事,則有司存。」
When Zengzi was seriously ill, Meng Jingzi came to visit him. Zengzi said: “When a bird is about to die, its song is mournful; when a man is about to die, his words are kind. In following the way, leaders cherish three things: by maintaining a dignified demeanor, they stay far from violence and arrogance; by maintaining a sincere countenance, they show they can be trusted; by choosing their words carefully, they avoid vulgarity and mistakes. As for the details of ritual, these will be taken care of by the functionaries.”

If you have the chance to impart some final words of wisdom while lying on your deathbed, what will they be? Will you rebuke someone you don’t even like for their failings or will you talk about your love for your family and friends?

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 4 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.

(1) Some commentators claim that these were the final words of the follower Zengzi. You can read more about him here.

(2) Zengzi was an adversary of Meng Jingzi, a high-ranking minister of the state of Lu who was known for focusing on minor details at the expense of dealing with important issues. He was also said to have paid no attention to how he appeared and acted towards other people. Hence, Zengzi’s critique of him. You can read more about Meng Jingzi here.

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

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