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.”
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.
This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.
(1) Confucius is at his pugilistic best with his scalding rejoinder to Ji Kangzi’s question about how to deal with local bandits. Given that Ji and his acolytes in the Three Families that controlled the state of Lu weren’t averse to giving those who opposed them a good kicking in order to maintain their grip on power, Confucius was either very brave or reckless with his response. It’s a wonder that the sage was able to keep his head attached to his shoulders after challenging him with such a sharp response. You can read more about Ji Kangzi here.
I took this image in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.