Leadership lessons from Confucius: the more you lean in one direction

lean in

子曰:「奢則不孫,儉則固。與其不孫也,寧固。」
Confucius said: “Just as extravagance leads to arrogance, frugality leads to meanness. It’s better to be mean rather than arrogant.”

The more you become accustomed to a luxurious lifestyle, the higher your expectations rise. A standard room in a five-star hotel’s no longer enough to satisfy you. You really need an elaborate suite with an awesome view of the beach to get a decent night’s sleep. After all, you deserve the very best, don’t you? You’re so much smarter and hard-working than the hoi-polloi. It’s about time you received the benefits you’re entitled to.

The more you become accustomed to saving on expenses, the greater your willingness to nickel and dime everyone around you. Why should you tip the waitress who gave you a cheerful smile even though she was rushed off her feet? After all, that’s what she’s paid to do, isn’t it? You don’t get a bonus every time you show someone else some courtesy. Besides, the money you save can be put to better use as part of the growing stash in your ultra-secure safe in your single bedroom at home.

Confucius is probably right in opining that meanness is marginally better than extravagance, but his point is that you should aim to maintain a sense of balance. The more you lean in one direction, the more extreme your behavior becomes without you even noticing it – to the detriment of yourself and everyone around you.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 35 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

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

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