Notes on Confucius’ Analects Book 17 Chapter 6

“Respectfulness, tolerance, trustworthiness in word, quickness and generosity.”

Respectfulness

Has something to do with not being too persistent in your interactions with others. If you want someone to act in a certain way, and they refuse, then you know when to let the matter drop. Even if you’re certain you’re in the right, you owe it to others to let them find their own way. Finding one’s own way is something valuable in itself, and you rob others of their own peace of mind if you don’t allow them the dignity to choose for themselves.

Respectfulness concerns the rules about who you should offer advice to, who you should be gentler and more tactful with, and so on. For example, you would approach your boss with criticism in a different way than you would tell off your own children. But even (especially!) with children, respect is important, it’s just there are different rules for being respectful.

How to be respectful is something determined by culture, and you need to be aware of those unwritten rules. You learn awareness of rules by making mistakes, and gradually correcting yourself. This is why it will take you 40 years to become “free from doubt”.

Tolerance

Continues from the concept of respectfulness in that it describes the way you should be when others do not follow your principles. Live and let live. Not everything can be correct as you see it.

It’s wise to be tolerant, because we are all still learning. Even you can be wrong sometimes. How foolish you would feel if you were to shout and shout and then discover you were in the wrong.

And even if you turn out to be right, the other person will be less resistant to change if you take a more flexible, and less confrontational, approach. Your flexibility can be an example for others. We all need to be able to bend like reeds sometimes.

Trustworthiness in word

It’s only fair that what you say should match what you do. If you don’t keep your promise, then you’ve told a lie, even if you didn’t mean to do so at the time. The promise retroactively becomes a lie. So take care what you say!

Quickness

Acting quickly is important. But only as quickly as you safely can: you don’t want to rush into error.

You’ll get faster in time, as you become more competent and more certain of yourself. Don’t rush into false self-certainty: allow it to develop step by step.

Generosity

Generosity without giving anything away. Meaning: you don’t spend anything you can’t afford. The superior person lives by her generosity. It’s her very being, her very style, her very comportment. She expresses herself in her generosity. The superior person has more to lose by not giving than by giving. What she gives most of all is herself. The superior person is like an artist in this respect.

(I’ve been reading The Analects by Confucius, translated by D.C. Lau.)

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