Confucius said: “To be poor without being resentful is difficult; to be wealthy without being arrogant is easy.”
It can be all too easy to let success go to your head and view your wealth and fame as rightful rewards for your talents and virtues. After all, everyone else has the same chance to make something of themselves if only they worked as hard as you do and had the same drive, determination, and grit.
Never mind that you may have got a helping hand from your family to help you make it into a great college and emerge from your studies debt-free. Or you had a kind teacher who recognized your potential and spent their precious free time steering you in the right direction. In the end, your success is down to you and nobody else.
Until of course, everything comes crashing down around you when a bitter divorce leaves you living alone in a dingy cheerless apartment ten times smaller than your former family home. Or a pandemic comes along and wipes out the business you’ve put two decades of sweat and tears into building.
How can life suddenly be so unfair? How can it be possible that your former colleagues, customers, and friends no longer see your worth and look down upon you as a failure? You’re still the same person you’ve always been. You’re just a victim of a bad luck, that’s all.
You’ll roll up your sleeves and rise up so high once again that you won’t even notice the doubters. Once you’ve pulled yourself out of bed, that is. With so many troubles filling your mind, it’s becoming harder and harder to get up in the morning…
This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.
(1) Having grown up in relatively deprived circumstances himself, Confucius was well aware of the challenges that the poor had to deal with just to survive and was therefore willing to cut them some slack. He wasn’t so tolerant towards the wealthy, however, reasoning that because they didn’t have to worry about material comforts they could devote their time to bettering themselves and offering a helping hand to others less fortunate than themselves.
I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 848 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Music, and Book of Changes. You can read more about the Zhusi Academy here.