Unlike the quasi father and son combo of Confucius and Yan Hui, Confucius and Zilu were more like an elder and young brother who love each other deeply but aren’t afraid to enter into the occasional argument when the occasion demands it.
In Book 11 of the Analects Confucius shows how much he cares for “bold and intense” (11.13) Zilu with his repeated attempts to rein in his recklessness. In 11.12 he famously responds to Zilu’s questions about how to serve the spirits and gods and what he thought of death by telling him to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground: “’If you’re not yet able to serve other people, how are you able to serve the spirits? … If you don’t understand life yet, how can you understand death?’” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Zilu
Why was Confucius so devastated by the death of Yan Hui that his followers felt compelled to take the extraordinary step of admonishing their master for displaying excessive grief? Book 11 of the Analects not only poses this question with its vivid portrayal of Confucius’s anguish at the untimely passing of his favorite follower. It also answers it by showing how close the relationship between Confucius and Yan Hui was and the high regard the sage had for the man he had seen as his protégé and eventual successor.
Indeed, in 11.4 Confucius sounds exactly like a humble-bragging dad when he claims that Yan Hui is of no help to him at all because “he delights in everything I say.” In 11.7, he goes on to tell the strongman Ji Kangzi that the only follower of his who loved learning was Yan Hui (1). In 11.19 he tops that by declaring that he “just about achieved perfection”. Not even a life of grinding poverty can tempt the virtuous Yan Hui to stray from the strict moral path that he follows. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Yan Hui
One of the most intriguing questions about Confucius is how he managed not only to build a large base of followers (traditionally numbered at 77), but more importantly how he managed to sustain their loyalty over, in some cases, many decades.
While Confucius’s great charisma, learning, and connections with senior government figures and members of the nobility were no doubt instrumental in attracting many young people to go and study with him, that doesn’t explain why the likes of Zilu, Zigong, Ran Qiu, Yan Hui, and others stuck with him through the lean times, most notably during his 14 years of exile tramping from state to state in search of employment. In a couple of notorious incidents (see 11.2 and 11.23) they even went close to losing their lives because of the scrapes Confucius got them into, but still remained faithful to him. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and his followers
While Confucius was held captive in Kuang, Yan Hui had fallen behind. When they were finally reunited, Confucius said: “I thought you were dead.” Yan Hui said: “While you’re alive, how would I dare to die?” (1) (2)
There’s nothing like a touch of ironic humor to take the tension out of an awkward situation. A detailed analysis of what went wrong and the reasons for it can wait until later. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a touch of ironic humor
Confucius said: “Yan Hui has just about achieved perfection, but he lives in constant poverty. Zigong is never satisfied with his lot and engages in trading and speculation. He frequently succeeds in his business ventures.”
Poverty isn’t necessarily a price you have to pay in order to be virtuous. Indeed, it can be very difficult to stick to the right path if you can’t pay the bills.
You don’t necessarily have to compromise your morals in order to become wealthy either. Indeed, you have a greater chance of success if you stick to your values. Be sure to remember, though, to you use your riches productively for the overall benefit of society. That new multi-million dollar yacht you’ve just bought to impress everyone will soon lose its luster when someone else has one that’s even bigger and shinier. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the pursuit of perfection
When Yan Hui died, his fellow followers wanted to give him a grand burial. Confucius said: “This isn’t right.” When the followers gave him a grand burial, Confucius said: “Yan Hui treated me like a father, but I was not given the chance to treat him like a son. This is not my fault, but yours, my friends.” (1)
If your team ever decides to disregard your advice or instructions, accept their decision with grace. Not everything’s about you. If there’s any blame to be apportioned, it should probably be placed on you for putting them into a position where they are given no choice but to ignore you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: not everything’s about you
When Yan Hui died, Confucius cried: “Alas! Heaven’s the ruin of me! Heaven’s the ruin of me!” (1)
How far should you go in masking your true emotions when disaster hits? Should you strive to remain calm and in control or is it OK to show your shock and grief with those around you? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: letting your emotions show
顏淵死，顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰：「才不才，亦各言其子也。鯉也死，有棺而無 ；吾不徒行，以為之 ，以吾從大夫之後，不可徒行也。」
When Yan Hui died, his father Yan Lu asked Confucius if he could sell his carriage so that he could pay for an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, a son is a son. When my son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin but there was no outer coffin. I wouldn’t go on foot in order to give him one because it wasn’t proper for me as a former minister to go on foot.” (1) (2) (3)
If you fail to follow the rules and conventions of your organization, how can you expect others to observe them? If you allow yourself some wriggling room by treating a sensitive or contentious case as an exception, why can’t everyone else do the same? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a special case?
Yan Lu (顏路) was one of the earliest followers of Confucius and the father of the sage’s favorite follower and protégé Yan Hui (顏回).
Otherwise known as Yan Wuyou (顏無繇), he was born in the state of Lu six years after Confucius in 545 BCE and led a humble existence. He was so poor that when Yan Hui died he had to ask Confucius to sell his carriage to buy an exterior coffin for his son’s burial. Confucius had to refuse the request because Yan Hui achieved sufficient status to merit such an honor. In addition, as a former minister it would have been a serious breach of ritual propriety for Confucius to participate in a funeral procession on foot. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Yan Lu
Confucius said: “Yan Hui is no help to me at all: he delights in everything I say.” (1)
Teaching is an interactive process. How do you know if your students are truly imbibing the great wisdom you are imparting to them if they just sit quietly in front of you without asking any questions? You may think that this shows they’re taking in everything you have to say, but it’s much more likely that they are either so bored that they don’t think it’s worth interrupting you with a question or so overwhelmed that they don’t want to appear dumber than everyone else by asking for clarification of a point that they don’t understand. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an interactive process