Ritual (禮/lǐ) is a flexible term that describes the loosely connected web of formal religious, political, and cultural ceremonies and unwritten rules of behavior that govern smooth interactions between people and ensure social stability. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on ritual
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
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a live sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love ritual.” (1)
How to react when someone opposes a much-needed change? Do you back down or do you find other ways of making sure it’s implemented? Unfortunately, this passage doesn’t tell us whether Zigong caved in to Confucius or continued to fight his corner. I hope he took the former tack – but given Zigong’s devotion to the sage I suspect he adopted the latter one. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: welcoming the new moon
In Book 2 of The Analects, Confucius continues his exploration of the qualities required by a leader (君子/jūnzǐ). Continue reading Analects Book 2: on leadership qualities
The character 文 (wén) originally meant “patterns”, though it is more often translated as “culture” or “civilization” as it refers to arts such as literature, calligraphy, music, ritual, mathematics, and even archery and charioteering. Continue reading Analects Book 1: Confucius on culture
Deference (讓/ràng) literally means “to yield”. Although the term is rarely mentioned in The Analects, the principles that governed it played an important role in ensuring smooth and courteous interactions between people of different walks of life. Continue reading Analects Book 1: Confucius on deference
When Zigong asked about leadership, Confucius said: “First accomplish what you want to say and then say it.”
Which comes first: words or actions? If you take your cue from Silicon Valley, the answer is to shout from the rooftops that your brilliant idea is going to transform the world as we know it so that you can suck in enough investors to kickstart your dream and keep it going until one fine day it stops bleeding cash and finally starts to make money. Or gets bought by a bigger company that wants to get their hands on your technology and people or at least prevent the emergence of a potential competitor. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: words or actions?
Even though Confucius is best known today as a teacher and philosopher, he could just as easily be described as a politician and policy wonk. Through his teachings his aim was to unite the weak and divided states that were vying for supremacy during his lifetime into a single prosperous country that was governed according to the same principles and practices that his hero, the Duke of Zhou, had implemented when laying the foundations for the growth of the Zhou dynasty five hundred years before his birth. Continue reading Analects Book 1: Confucius on governance
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” Confucius said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves ritual.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! Based on what I’ve already said, you can work out what’s coming next!” (1) (2)
“Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.” This line from the ancient Book of Songs that Zigong quotes to Confucius during their bout of poetic banter provides the perfect metaphor for the process of self-cultivation. The modern-day equivalent would be, I suppose, “sharpening the saw.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like carving and polishing stones
Ziqin asked Zigong: “When the Master arrives in another state and needs to find out about the affairs of its government, does he have to ask for this information or do people give him it of their own accord?” Zigong replied: “The Master obtains it by being warm, kind, courteous, unassuming, and deferential. He has a very different way of seeking out information than other people, hasn’t he?” (1)
Treating people respectfully is a much more effective way of finding out what is happening than questioning them aggressively. The more interest you show in listening to what somebody has to say, the more likely they are to reveal what is really going on. Warmth, kindness, and courtesy go a long way.