Leadership Lessons from Confucius: closer to goodness

closer to goodness

Confucius said: “Firmness, determination, simplicity, modesty: these bring us closer to goodness.”
子曰:「剛毅木訥,近仁。」

There are always going to be occasions when you wonder if it’s worth continuing along your path. Boredom, frustration at the lack of visible progress, and pressure from your boss, colleagues, and even friends and family can all come together to make you question whether you wouldn’t be better off abandoning it and take another route.

Think carefully before you decide to take such a dramatic step. No matter what path you choose to take, you’re always going to encounter tough challenges along the way. The real question you need to ask yourself is whether you have the grit required to overcome them when they arise. The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. No matter what path you choose to pursue, the same qualities will be required if you are to achieve success.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 27 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

(1) Confucius is calling for a return to the pure and unadorned values of the toiling sons of the soil in this passage. Indeed, he turns terms that were commonly used in a derogatory sense to describe people behaving like ignorant peasants into essential virtues for bringing everyone closer to goodness. The character 木/mù, for example, literally means wood, and the character 訥/nè, literally means slow in speech. Not for the first time, he champions rustic native substance over urban cultural refinement.

This image is of Scholar Huang’s Residence in the Taiwan National Center of Traditional Arts in Yilan County. Originally located in Yilan City, the compound was dismantled in 1996 and rebuilt in the center in 2001. You can read more about it here.

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