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
Do wisdom (仁/rén) and goodness (知/zhī) go hand in hand? Although Confucius doesn’t give an explicit answer to this question in Book 6 of the Analects, he does show that there is a very close link between them.
When the follower Fan Chi asks Confucius about these two subjects in 6.22, Confucius tells him that wisdom means doing “what is right for the common people” and that goodness requires being “first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius on wisdom and goodness
Book 6 of the Analects continues along the same lines as Book 5 with more comments from Confucius about his followers and historical and contemporary figures. 15 followers, 7 contemporary figures, and the legendary sage kings Yao and Shun are featured.
The followers Ran Yong, Ran Qiu, and Yan Hui each receive three mentions, while Zilu and Zigong get two. All the others are only featured once. Among these, Yuan Xian, Min Ziqian, Ran Geng (Boniu), and Tantai Mieming make their debut in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: by numbers
Goodness is such an ambiguous concept that even Confucius shied away from attaching an exact meaning to it. He found it much easier to describe the benefits that the cultivation of a strong internal sense of goodness can bring to people rather than defining its precise features. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 4: the benefits of goodness
As in Book 2 and Book 3, Confucius dominates Book 4 of the Analects with the curious exceptions of Chapter 15, in which his younger follower Zengzi steps in to clarify the meaning of his words, and Chapter 26, where his follower Ziyou takes the reins. The only plausible explanation for these two anomalies is that they were slipped in by unscrupulous or careless editors. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 4: by numbers
The Analects of Confucius Book 4 begins with an exploration of the meaning of goodness. Only people who practice it constantly in their daily lives without a desire for personal profit are able to enjoy true satisfaction and contentment.
Even though Confucius claims that he has never seen “anyone whose strength is insufficient” to devote themselves to goodness for a single day, he despairs that he hasn’t ever seen anyone who “truly loves goodness and truly detests evil” either. The path to goodness that he urges everyone to follow is indeed a lonely and difficult one! Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 4: overview
Confucius said: “The wise are never perplexed; the good are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.” (1)
Put in the time required to understand what’s really happening. Don’t take what other people have to say at face value. Question all your assumptions. Ignore all the fake narratives and bogus statistics designed to befuddle rather than enlighten you. Blow away the smoke and smash the mirrors until you reach such a state of clarity that you can make a decision without any doubts or second thoughts.
Embrace uncertainty rather than resist it. Analyze the opportunities and the threats and decide on your course of action. While others are flailing around trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it, you’re ready to swoop in and make your move.
Don’t confuse courage with recklessness. The reason you’re not afraid is because you’ve fully prepared yourself for this very moment. While others waste valuable time complaining about the vagaries of fate, you’ve already executed your plan and decided what your next step will be. Because they are in control of their thoughts and emotions and know the right time to take action, the wise are never perplexed.
This article features a translation of Chapter 29 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.
(1) Confucius makes a similar point in 14.28: “A leader adheres to three principles that I have been unable to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” In 12.4, he explains to his follower Sima Niu that a leader has no anxiety or fear because: “When he looks inside himself and finds nothing wrong, what does he have to be anxious about or fear?”
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.
Confucius disapproved of profit, but he approved of fate and goodness. (1)
Pay close attention to how you speak and write. A poor choice of words or a lack of clarity in grammar or syntax might not just lead to misunderstandings today but also condemn others to thousands of years of pointless arguments over the meaning of the message you originally meant to convey. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: pointless arguments
Confucius said: “If people with a courageous streak find themselves trapped in poverty, chaos will ensue. If people without a trace of goodness decide their sufferings are too great, chaos will ensue.”
The harder you push people, the likelier they are to push back either by voting with their feet or openly rebelling against the system. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: relentless demands
Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 7 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. It provides a vivid portrait of the sage’s personality and motivations, as well as his opinions on various followers and other contemporary and historical figures.
Confucius said: “I transmit but I don’t create. I am faithful to and love the past. In this respect, I dare to compare myself with Old Peng.”
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: new English translation