Leadership lessons from Confucius: you can always do better

do better

子曰:「衣敝縕袍,與衣孤貉者立,而不恥者,其由也與!不忮不求,何用不臧?」子路終身誦之。子曰:「是道也,何足以臧!」
Confucius said: “Only Zilu can stand in his shabby hemp gown next to people wearing fox and badger furs without feeling embarrassed: ‘free of envy, free of greed, he must be a good man.’” When Zilu continuously chanted these lines, Confucius said: “You’re moving in the right direction, but is that a good reason to be so self-satisfied?” (1)

Don’t rest on your laurels. There’s always room for improvement. Just because you’re making progress doesn’t mean that you can relax. You can always do better.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 27 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) Confucius greatly enjoyed teasing his follower Zilu, so he is probably setting him up here with his compliment, the latter part of which is a direct quotation from Poem 33 of the Book of Songs. As is his wont, Zilu unthinkingly falls into the trap, only to be duly rewarded with a reprimand from Confucius after adopting the lines from the classic as his mantra. This is no time for Zilu to be complacent; leading a humble life without worrying about being poor or being envious of the rich is a basic requirement for his personal development. You can read more about Zilu here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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