Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview

Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview Key Themes

Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius kicks off with a lively exploration of the nature of the supreme virtue of goodness in the first three chapters. As is his custom, Confucius doesn’t even attempt to provide a single all-encompassing definition of the term. Instead, he tailors his responses to lay out the standards that his three questioners need to meet to move closer towards achieving it.

Naturally, Confucius places the bar the highest for his protégé Yan Hui, telling him in 12.1 that if he “manages to exercise self-discipline and to return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world.” By strictly adhering to the rules of propriety, Yan Hui would set an example that everyone else would automatically follow. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview

Followers of Confucius: Sima Niu

Despite making just three appearances in the Analects, Sima Niu (司馬牛) succeeded in keeping his name preserved for posterity while many far more deserving figures had theirs disappear into obscurity.

It’s not as if he comes up with any stunning intellectual or ethical insights in the three brief and rather melodramatic appearance he makes in Book 12 of the Analects either. At best, he functions as a foil for Confucius to expound in detail on the nature of goodness and leadership and for Zixia to utter the famous phrase: “within the four seas all men are brothers” – which ironically is often misattributed to the sage himself rather than his dour follower! Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Sima Niu

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: true friends

true friends

Zengzi said: “A leader attracts friends through their cultural refinement, and looks to their friends for support in nurturing their goodness.”
曾子曰:「君子以文會友,以友輔仁。」

How many true friends do you really have? How many of them are willing to stick with you through thick and thin and are not afraid of being seen with you even though you have radically different political views? How many of them are friends with you because of your status and the social and business contacts that you bring? And how many of them would move on at the drop of a hat if someone with even greater wealth and prestige comes along? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: true friends

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: friendship advice

friendship advice

Zigong asked about friendship. Confucius said: “Advise your friends loyally and guide them tactfully. If that fails, stop: don’t disgrace yourself.”
子貢問「友」。子曰:「忠告而善道之,不可則止,毋自辱焉。」

It’s not your responsibility to tell your friends how to lead their lives or to intervene when they are facing a serious problem. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions or actions they’re taking, keep your lips buttoned unless they come to you for advice or support. Even then, don’t go overboard unless you’re prepared to risk becoming the target of their anger and resentment. There’s a fine line between helping someone and interfering in their affairs. When it comes to friendship advice, never forget the old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: friendship advice

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: promote the upright

promote the upright

Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”
樊遲問「仁」。子曰:「愛人。」問「知」。子曰:「知人。」樊遲未達。子曰:「舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。」樊遲退,見子夏曰:「鄉也,吾見於夫子而問『知』。子曰:『舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。』何謂也?」子夏曰:「富哉言乎!舜有天下,選於眾,舉皋陶,不仁者遠矣;湯有天下,選於眾,舉伊尹,不仁者遠矣。」

One of the most important attributes of a leader is to be an excellent judge of character. Without having the right people in place, it’s impossible to build a strong and vibrant culture in your organization. Even the most beautifully crafted vision and values statements won’t have a cat in hell’s chance of being implemented if you if there’s nobody on the ground to embody them. Be very careful in how you hire and develop people to make sure you “promote the upright and place them above the crooked.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: promote the upright

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a moment of anger

moment of anger

Fan Chi was strolling with Confucius around the Rain Dance Terrace. He said: “May I ask how you can accumulate virtue, correct evil thoughts, and resolve confusion?” Confucius said: “An excellent question! Always put service before reward: isn’t this the way to accumulate virtue? Attack the evil in yourself rather than the evil in other people: isn’t this the way to correct evil thoughts? Forget yourself in a moment of anger and bring ruin upon yourself and your family: isn’t this is a case of confusion?”
樊遲從遊於舞雩之下。曰:「敢問崇德、修慝、辨惑?」子曰:「善哉問!先事後得,非崇德與?攻其惡,無攻人之惡,非修慝與?一朝之忿,忘其身以及其親,非惑與?」

It only takes a brief moment of anger for years of hard work and selfless dedication to go down the drain. The path to self-cultivation requires learning to control your emotions so that you’re not affected by externalities. Whenever you feel the mist begin to rise, stand up and take a deep breath. Focus on what you can control – not what you can’t. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a moment of anger

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: celebrity versus accomplishment

accomplishment

Zizhang asked: “When is it possible to say that someone is accomplished?” Confucius said: “It depends on what you mean by being accomplished.” Zizhang replied: “To be recognized in public and private life.” Confucius said: “That is celebrity, not accomplishment. An accomplished person is straightforward by nature and loves what is right. They listen to what others have to say, observe their moods and expressions, and are respectful to others. Such a person is sure to be accomplished in their public and private life. Someone seeking celebrity puts on an ostentatious display of goodness while behaving in the opposite way free of any self-doubt. They will definitely be recognized in their public and private life.”
子張問士:「何如斯可謂之達矣?」子曰:「何哉?爾所謂達者!」子張對曰:「在邦必聞,在家必聞。」子曰:「是聞也,非達也。夫達也者,質直而好義,察言而觀色,慮以下人;在邦必達,在家必達。夫聞也者:色取仁而行違,居之不疑;在邦必聞,在家必聞。」

Be very careful before you hire someone who has the perfect resume and comes with glowing letters of recommendation. Don’t take their accomplishments at face value. Dig deeper to find out what actual role they played in doubling annual sales or landing a major client by reaching out to others involved in the work. Perhaps the portrait they present of themselves doesn’t quite provide the true picture. Better to know what substance lies beneath the pretty package before you open it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: celebrity versus accomplishment

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when the wind blows over the grass

when the wind blows over the grass

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance, saying: “What would you think if I were to execute people who don’t follow the way in order to advance the people who do follow the way?” Confucius replied: “You are here to govern; what need is there to execute people? If you desire goodness, the people will be good. The virtue of a leader is like the wind; the virtue of the common people is like the grass. When the wind blows over the grass it will surely bend.”
季康子問政於孔子曰:「如殺無道,以就有道,何如?」孔子對曰:「子為政,焉用殺?子欲善,而民善矣!君子之德風,小人之德草,草上之風必偃。」

Harsh measures may sometimes be necessary to restore order to your organization, but at best they can only provide short-term relief. The only way to build a strong and stable culture is for the leader to set the right example for everyone to follow. If the wind blows in the wrong direction, the grass will bend in the wrong direction as well. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when the wind blows over the grass

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: troubled by bandits

troubled by bandits

Ji Kangzi was troubled by bandits in the state of Lu and asked Confucius how to sort out the problem. Confucius replied: “If you could get rid of your own avaricious desires, they wouldn’t steal even if you paid them to.”
季康子患盜,問於孔子。孔子對曰:「苟子之不欲,雖賞之不竊。」

People don’t listen to what you say. They look at what you do. No matter how fancy the words and rituals are that you use to wrap your desire for wealth and power in, they will quickly see through them and take their cues from your actions. If you show that greed and theft are acceptable behavior, you can hardly blame others for doing the same. Moral cultivation starts with improving the self – not complaining about what others are doing. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: troubled by bandits

Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

do the right thing

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “To govern effectively is to do the right thing. If you do the right thing who would dare not to do it?”
季康子問政於孔子,孔子對曰:「政者正也,子帥以正,孰敢不正?」

The rot starts at the top. If you fail to do the right thing, how can you expect others to? If you proclaim a commitment to diversity and then give your best buddy a major promotion because he is “uniquely qualified” for the position, how can you expect everyone else to follow the new policy? Even if people don’t complain openly about your hypocrisy, they’ll find equally creative ways to pretend that they’re doing the right thing as you do. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing