Zilu stayed for the night at the Stone Gate. In the morning, the gatekeeper said: “Where are you coming from?” Zilu said: “From Confucius.” “Isn’t he the one who knows trying to achieve the impossible but still keeps on doing it?
Does it matter what other people think of you if you’re happy doing your own thing? Does it matter if they laugh at you behind your back because they think you’re crazy? Shouldn’t they be more concerned about getting the most out of the lives they’re leading? It’s not as if they’re actually changing the world either.
Perhaps they’re right in thinking that you’re wasting your time trying to achieve the impossible. Deep down you wonder the same thing. But that’s not going to stop you from keeping on doing it. Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried in the first place.
This article features a translation of Chapter 38 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.
(1) The Stone Gate is believed to have been one of the seven gates of Qufu, the capital city of Lu. It’s unclear whether the gatekeeper is speaking of Confucius out of admiration for his persistence or exasperation at his bullheadedness.
(2) While it’s perfectly possible that the gatekeeper may just be a normal working stiff, there are suggestions that he could an educated official who has withdrawn from court life and is questioning Zilu about Confucius’s wisdom in continuing his quest to restore the nation to its former glories. See 14.32 and 14.39 for similar passages.
I took this image at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu. The duke was Confucius’s great hero and role model as a result of his tireless efforts to the establish the foundation of the fledgling kingdom of Zhou while acting a regent to the young King Cheng. You can read more about the temple here.