I’m hoping that a second long holiday weekend in succession will give me enough time to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on my Analects of Confucius Book 12 content. You can find all the links to the translations, commentaries, and related articles on the resources page here.
One of the most common reasons given in the West for studying the Analects is for the insights it provides into Chinese culture. That’s OK as far as it goes (though it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be the only source) but the more I study the text, the more deeply I’m struck by how much light it sheds on the universal human condition. The hypocrisy, greed, thuggery, and other frailties that the sharp-eyed Confucius observes in his contemporaries is every bit as virulent among all of us today. Indeed, it could be argued, these traits are actually accelerating thanks to the proliferation of digital technologies like social media. Continue reading Notes from the field: Confucius and the universal human condition
The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together an eclectic mix of familiar and new contemporary and historical figures.
By far the most interesting newcomer is the colorful Duke Jing of Qi (齊景公), who only rose to power after his half-brother Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) was murdered by a disgruntled minister called Cuizi (崔子) for conducting a not-so-secret affair with his wife. After a tempestuous start to his reign, the duke together with his trusted prime minister Yan Ying (晏嬰) made Qi one of the richest and most powerful states in the Zhou kingdom, only to send it into rapid decline after falling prey to the temptations of leading a more lavish and luxurious lifestyle. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: Contemporary and Historical Figures
The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together a large cast of familiar followers of the sage. It also introduces a new one called Sima Niu, who makes his debut in 12.3 only to head off into the sunset two chapters later never to be seen or heard of again.
Sima Niu was a government official from the state of Song. In his conversations with Confucius, he asks for guidance on how to deal with his eldest brother’s plans to overthrow the rightful ruler of the state with a couple of indirect questions about the nature of goodness leadership. Although Confucius gives him sensible advice on how to conduct himself, he sensibly avoids striking at the heart of the matter. In 12.5, with his brother’s attempted coup a failure, Sima Niu’s lament that he alone has no brothers earns him a withering riposte from the follower Zixia, which is often misattributed to Confucius: “Within the four seas all men are brothers!” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: followers
Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius kicks off with a lively exploration of the nature of the supreme virtue of goodness in the first three chapters. As is his custom, Confucius doesn’t even attempt to provide a single all-encompassing definition of the term. Instead, he tailors his responses to lay out the standards that his three questioners need to meet to move closer towards achieving it.
Naturally, Confucius places the bar the highest for his protégé Yan Hui, telling him in 12.1 that if he “manages to exercise self-discipline and to return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world.” By strictly adhering to the rules of propriety, Yan Hui would set an example that everyone else would automatically follow. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview
Despite making just three appearances in the Analects, Sima Niu (司馬牛) succeeded in keeping his name preserved for posterity while many far more deserving figures had theirs disappear into obscurity.
It’s not as if he comes up with any stunning intellectual or ethical insights in the three brief and rather melodramatic appearance he makes in Book 12 of the Analects either. At best, he functions as a foil for Confucius to expound in detail on the nature of goodness and leadership and for Zixia to utter the famous phrase: “within the four seas all men are brothers” – which ironically is often misattributed to the sage himself rather than his dour follower! Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Sima Niu
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”
One of the most important attributes of a leader is to be an excellent judge of character. Without having the right people in place, it’s impossible to build a strong and vibrant culture in your organization. Even the most beautifully crafted vision and values statements won’t have a cat in hell’s chance of being implemented if you if there’s nobody on the ground to embody them. Be very careful in how you hire and develop people to make sure you “promote the upright and place them above the crooked.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: promote the upright
Zizhang asked: “When is it possible to say that someone is accomplished?” Confucius said: “It depends on what you mean by being accomplished.” Zizhang replied: “To be recognized in public and private life.” Confucius said: “That is celebrity, not accomplishment. An accomplished person is straightforward by nature and loves what is right. They listen to what others have to say, observe their moods and expressions, and are respectful to others. Such a person is sure to be accomplished in their public and private life. Someone seeking celebrity puts on an ostentatious display of goodness while behaving in the opposite way free of any self-doubt. They will definitely be recognized in their public and private life.”
Be very careful before you hire someone who has the perfect resume and comes with glowing letters of recommendation. Don’t take their accomplishments at face value. Dig deeper to find out what actual role they played in doubling annual sales or landing a major client by reaching out to others involved in the work. Perhaps the portrait they present of themselves doesn’t quite provide the true picture. Better to know what substance lies beneath the pretty package before you open it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: celebrity versus accomplishment
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. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: troubled by bandits
Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “To govern effectively is to do the right thing. If you do the right thing who would dare not to do it?”
The rot starts at the top. If you fail to do the right thing, how can you expect others to? If you proclaim a commitment to diversity and then give your best buddy a major promotion because he is “uniquely qualified” for the position, how can you expect everyone else to follow the new policy? Even if people don’t complain openly about your hypocrisy, they’ll find equally creative ways to pretend that they’re doing the right thing as you do. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing
Confucius said: “A leader brings out the good in people – not the bad. A petty person does exactly the opposite.”
You have no greater responsibility as a leader than bringing out the good in people around you. That means spending the time to work with them to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and taking the necessary steps to develop and address them through mentoring, training, and assigning the right projects that will enable them to learn from experience. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: bringing out the good in people