Having put his followers under the microscope in the first half of Book 6 of the Analects, Confucius laments in 6.17, “Who would leave a house except through the doorway? Why is it that nobody follows the way?”
Confucius, in other words, finds it impossible to understand why his followers are either unable or unwilling to fully embrace the “way” (道/dào) that he has charted for them and worked so hard to lead them along. He is mystified and no doubt frustrated that they find it so difficult to follow what he sees as the natural and obvious path for anyone who aspires to be a leader (君子/jūnzǐ).
Unfortunately, rather than confront his followers head on to find out the reasons for their lack of buy-in for his Big Idea, he chooses to let the question hang in the air and eulogize Yan Hui as the one who got away. Instead of getting his hands dirty by pushing harder to find an answer to this problem, he keeps his head in the clouds with lofty pronouncements like the one he makes in 6.20: “Those who know the way are not the equal of those who love it; those who love the way are not the equal of those who take joy in it.”
Fine words indeed, but if Confucius can’t even persuade his followers to take the first step of knowing the way how can he expect them to go on to love and even take joy his Big Idea in the same way that he does? While Confucius clearly has sufficient personal charisma and intellectual brilliance to lead his followers to water, he lacks that vital ingredient or special something required to inspire them to drink it. It’s no wonder that despite all his proselytizing, he ends his career in disappointment and failure and has to wait until the Han dynasty to see his way posthumously adopted.