Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a true friend

true friend

Zilu asked: “What qualities must you possess to be called a true scholar-official?” Confucius said: “Supportive, candid, and warm: such a person deserves to be called a true scholar-official. Supportive and candid with their friends and warm towards their brothers.”
子路問曰:「何如斯可謂之士矣?」子曰:「切切偲偲,怡怡如也,可謂士矣。朋友切切偲偲,兄弟怡怡。」

How can you be a true friend with someone if you’re reluctant to tell them what you really think? Even at the potential cost of hurting their feelings, you shouldn’t hold back if you’re less than impressed with their latest madcap business idea or romantic attachment. Neither, course, should you feel hurt if they express their unvarnished opinions about your latest plans and activities. Better to hear the truth from a true friend that you know and trust than a mere acquaintance or a complete stranger.

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) This passage is very similar in style to 13.20 with its reference to the scholar-official (士/shì).

(2) For Confucius, the ideal of friendship was for men to come together and mutually encourage each other in their pursuit of goodness through rigorous study of the classical texts and open discussion of their ideas and conduct. In 12.23, however, does warn about the need to be tactful with your criticism and hold your tongue if it’s not working.

This image was taken in the Taiwan National Center of Traditional Arts in Yilan County. You can read more about it here.

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