Leadership lessons from Confucius: premature reaction

premature reaction

子曰:「禹吾無間然矣,菲飲食,而致孝乎鬼神,惡衣服,而致美乎黻冕,卑宮室,而盡力乎溝洫,禹吾無間然矣。」
Confucius said: “I can find no flaw in Yu. He drank and ate simple fare, but he showed complete devotion in his offerings to the ghosts and spirits; he wore humble clothes, but his ritual vestments were magnificent; he lived in a modest palace, but he devoted all his strength to draining the floodwaters. I can find no flaw in Yu.”

It’s best not take anything you read or see at face value – particularly at a time when it has become so easy to manipulate textual, statistical, image, and video data. No matter how busy you are, take some time to check its source before jumping to conclusions.

Even if the source appears to be kosher, ask yourself whether the content rings true to you. Does the wording used match the style of the person who’s being quoted in the article? Does the picture or video clip tell the whole story or has it been carefully edited to convey a particular message?

These are the type of questions you should be asking yourself to guard against an embarrassing case of premature reaction.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.

(1) You can read more about the legendary sage king Yu here.

(2) There are some suspicions that this passage was inserted into the Analects at a much later date so that supporters of Confucianism (儒家/rújiā) could claim “ownership” of Yu over the rival Mohist (墨家/mòjiā) school, which venerated him as the perfect ruler. While the two schools shared a belief in the need to live a simple and virtuous life and show selfless support for others, the hair-shirted Mohists had no truck at all with the extravagance of the rites and rituals that Confucianism placed so much importance on. With his gushing praise and carefully constructed polarities, Confucius appears to try a little too hard to show that simple living and intricate ritual ceremonies are two sides of the same coin and complement rather than contradict each other. There’s a good chance that the sage never uttered these words at all.

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

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *