Leadership lessons from Confucius: keep your emotions under control

keep your emotions under control

仲弓問仁。子曰:「出門如見大賓,使民如承大祭。己所不欲,勿施於人。在邦無怨,在家無怨。」仲弓曰:「雍雖不敏,請事斯語。」
Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you’re away from home, act towards everyone as if you’re meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you’re conducting a great sacrifice. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, allow me to live up to your guidance.”

Just because you had a bad day at work, that’s no excuse for taking out your frustration on your family members when you get home. Just because you had a huge argument with your partner, that’s no excuse for bawling out your staff when you get to the office. Keep your emotions under control. Treat others as you expect to be treated. Follow the Golden Rule.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 2 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.

(1) Confucius considered Ran Yong to be one his most virtuous and talented followers, even going so far as to suggest that he was fit for high office in 6.1. Rather than give Ran a universal definition of goodness, Confucius provides his follower with concrete examples of the aspects of his conduct that he needs to focus in order to accomplish it. With his advice on how to act at home and in public, Confucius is recommending the improvements Ran needs to make in order to become an effective senior official. Confucius’s admonition not to allow resentment enter his public and family affairs suggests that he thought Ran needed to get a stronger grip on his emotions.

(2) Confucius also raises the so-called Golden Rule of reciprocity: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.” (己所不欲,勿施於人). The follower Zigong first mentions this in 5.12 of the Analects. Confucius underlines the importance of it to him in 15.24:

子貢問曰:「有一言而可以終身行之者乎?」子曰:「其怒乎!己所不欲,勿施於人。」
Zigong asked: “Is there one single word that can guide you through your entire life?” Confucius said: “Should it not be reciprocity? Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”

I took this image on the climb up Jiuwufeng in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.

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