Leadership lessons from Confucius: the best thing since sliced bread

best thing since sliced bread

子曰:「若聖與仁,則吾豈敢?抑為之不厭,誨人不倦,則可謂云爾已矣。」公西華曰:「正唯弟子不能學也。」
Confucius said: “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness? All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Gongxi Chi said: “This is exactly what we students are unable to grasp.”

Better not to blow your own trumpet. If you’re anywhere near as good as you think you are, others will no doubt sing your praises. Just don’t let all the compliments go to your head, that’s all. Even if everyone else thinks that you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you know deep down that the moment you rest on your laurels complacency will set in and the downward slide will begin.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 33 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) This passage is very similar to Chapter 2 of Book 7, once again highlighting Confucius’s passion for learning and teaching. It brings to mind the old saw that the best way of learning something is to teach it. You can gauge how well you really understand a subject by the type of questions students ask you about it and the feedback they give.

(2) Note Confucius’s approach of drawing attention to his own failings rather than haranguing his followers for theirs. While I’m sure that his intention was to emphasize the need for them to stay to stay humble, I can’t help wondering if some of them came to the conclusion that if someone as accomplished as their Master couldn’t make it as a sage they had no chance at all.

(3) You can read more about the follower Gongxi Chi here.

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

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