子曰：「參乎！吾道一以貫之。」曾子曰：「唯。」子出。門人問曰：「何謂也？」曾子曰：「夫子之道，忠恕而已矣。」 Confucius said: “Shen, my way is woven into a single thread.” Zengzi replied: “Indeed.” After Confucius had left, the other followers asked: “What did he mean?” Zengzi said: “The way of the Master is based on loyalty and reciprocity; that and nothing more.” (1) (2)
Do you have a Golden Rule that you follow: a core ethical principle that guides all your actions? For Confucius, this could be boiled down to reciprocity. As he explains in Chapter 14 of Book 15 of the Analects, this means: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” In other words, put yourself in other people’s shoes before you say or do something to them.
Although this may come as a surprise to people who have experienced or even just heard about the rigors of China’s so-called “Confucian” education system, Confucius himself believed that learning should involve much more than simply imbibing and regurgitating the ancient classics. Rather, it should be focused on the practical application of the timeless principles found in the texts to your daily life so that you can make a positive contribution to your family, your community, and ultimately the whole society you live in. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on learning→
Before you read a single word of the Analects, it is important to understand that the work comprises a collection of conversations and aphorisms rather than a manifesto. Each of its twenty books features multiple exchanges between multiple characters discussing multiple topics – much like a modern-day social media feed. There are no linear arguments based on carefully-marshaled facts that build up to a resounding conclusion. It is left to you, the reader, to pick through the various threads of the text and connect them to the others to build up your overall understanding of the teachings contained in it. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Overview→
子張學干祿。子曰：「多聞闕疑，慎言其餘，則寡尤。多見闕殆，慎行其餘，則寡悔。言寡尤，行寡悔，祿在其中矣。」 Zizhang was studying with the aim of securing an official position. Confucius said: “Listen for as much information as possible, ignore anything that is suspect, and be cautious when talking about the rest; that way you will only rarely say anything out of place. Observe as much as possible, ignore anything that is dangerous, and carefully apply the rest to your actions; that way you will rarely have reason for regret. By speaking cautiously to avoid mistakes and acting carefully to avoid regrets, your career is set.” (1)
How to mentor raw talent? Do you directly criticize their weaknesses, or do you indirectly encourage them to improve certain aspects of their behavior? Confucius takes the latter approach with his bright but brash young follower Zizhang. Rather than taking a stick to him for his rashness and arrogance, Confucius dangles a carrot in front of him by counseling him to adopt a more low-key approach if he wants to get secure a government job. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on mentoring→
曾子曰：「慎終追遠，民德歸厚矣。」 Zengzi said: “When the dead are shown proper reverence and the memory of distant ancestors is kept alive, the people’s virtue is at its highest.” (1) (2)
It can be very easy to take the culture of your organization for granted. But showing respect for its history and the people who established and built it is vital for forming a common bond among everyone who joins it.