Shao Hu (召忽) is known for the extreme, some would say excessive, devotion he showed to his master Prince Jiu of Qi (公子糾). After the prince was executed as a result of losing out in a power struggle against his younger brother, Duke Huan of Qi, the grief-stricken Shao Hu committed suicide rather than return to his homeland together with his comrade-in-arms Guan Zhong (管仲) as the duke ordered.
Although many people like Zilu admired Shao Hu for what they considered to be the ultimate act of loyalty of a retainer towards their master, others such as Confucius strongly defended Guan Zhong’s decision to defy the convention that Shao Hu followed and return to Qi. As Confucius argues in 14.16 and 14.17, Guan Zhong’s subsequent achievements as Duke Huan’s chief minister far outweighed his violation of a rarely observed rule of ritual propriety. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Shao Hu
When I first began hiking the trails of the Four Beasts, I generally wore my trusty AirPods to listen to podcasts and audio books. Nowadays, I don’t even bother to bring them with me because I have come to prefer taking in the sounds of the birds and animals in the surrounding bushes and trees. What a difference a year makes!
Looking back, I suspect that one of the reasons I kept my AirPods on was to shield myself from the unfamiliar physical grind of slogging up step after concrete step. I also view it as a sign that I was not quite mentally ready to embrace the challenge. It was only as I became more confident in my fitness and strength that I was able to throw off my AirPod shackles so to speak and open myself up to the full experience of simply being on the mountainside. Continue reading Notes from the field: throwing off my AirPod shackles
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year! Let’s hope that 2021 turns out to be better than 2020.
If there is one thing we should have learned from last year, it is the importance of taking much greater control of our personal wellbeing. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are essential for remaining healthy. We cannot rely on overburdened medical services and miracle vaccines to get everything back to some resemblance of normal. Although they can help mitigate the impact of viruses like Covid-19, not even the greatest doctors and drugs can do much to resolve underlying problems such as growing levels of obesity across the world. Continue reading Notes from the field: a happy and healthy new year!
When Ran Qiu returned from court, Confucius said: “What kept you so long?” Ran Qiu replied: “Government affairs.” Confucius said: “Surely you mean private affairs. If it had been government affairs I would have heard about them, even though I’m not in office.”
As technology blurs the boundaries between functions, disciplines, and businesses, how are you going to manage the conflicts of interest that will inevitably arise from this? What if a supplier decides to move into a market that you’re already active in based in part on the insights it’s gleaned from working with you? Or if an online distributor leverages the sales data it’s capturing to develop a product that competes directly with yours under its own brand? This is a murky new world that technology is moving us into with levels of ethical complexity that have never been seen before. Make sure you’re ready for it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: conflicts of interest
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: “If you expand your learning through culture and keep your behavior in check through ritual you’re unlikely to go wrong.”
It can be easy to get so consumed by an idea that you lose sight of how to turn it into reality. While the numbers may look amazing in the spreadsheets and presentation files you hastily cobble together and the initial feedback from the small circle of friends you trust enough to tell them about it is off the charts, your unicorn is just a twinkle in your eye until you figure out the actionable steps that will be required to let it loose into the world. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: turning an idea into reality
Confucius said: “I can adjudicate lawsuits as well as anybody. But I would prefer to make litigation unnecessary.”
Why bother shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Focus instead on building a culture that prevents the steed from escaping in the first place. Rules are reactive by their very nature. They only address situations that have already taken place without identifying or eliminating the root cause. There’ll never be enough of them to cover every possible scenario that might occur. It’s only by putting the right principles, processes, and practices in place that you and your organization will become more proactive in dealing with potential problems and threats. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: after the horse has bolted
Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Exercising self-discipline and returning to ritual constitute goodness. If you manage to exercise self-discipline and return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world. You can only achieve goodness through your own efforts. How can it come from anybody else?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what specific steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that goes against ritual; don’t listen to anything that goes against ritual; don’t say anything that goes against ritual; don’t do anything that goes against ritual.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to live up to your guidance.”
Only you can become your best self. Nobody else can do it for you. The buck stops with you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: becoming your best self
Even though Confucius was a strong advocate of preserving ancient Zhou dynasty rituals in all their pristine glory, that didn’t mean that he was completely averse to making changes to them when it made sense – as long as they didn’t affect the integrity of the ceremonies.
In 9.3, he doesn’t raise any objections to replacing hemp or linen with silk in the production of ceremonial caps because it is much more economical to do so. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: Confucius on ritual integrity
Unlike the sainted Yan Hui, neither Zilu nor Zigong manage to earn unequivocal praise from Confucius in Book 9 of the Analects. Indeed, Confucius rebukes them both for a variety of sins – ranging from a serious violation of ritual protocol to a failure to understand the qualities required of a leader.
Zilu is the one who is responsible for breaching ritual conventions by acting as if he is a retainer of a feudal lord while the sage is seriously ill in 9.12. Given that Confucius doesn’t belong to such an august rank, he roundly scolds his well-meaning if misguided follower after he recovers: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong