Leadership Lessons from Confucius: check your facts

Confucius said: “Even when I was young scribes would leave a blank space if they were unsure of what to write and people who owned horses would lend them to others to ride. Nowadays such practices have disappeared.”

Don’t be embarrassed to ask people for help if you do not know the answer to a question. It does not make you look weak or stupid. In world where knowledge and information are expanding at an exponential rate, nobody has the answer to everything. Better to check your facts first rather being called out later for making an avoidable error.

This article features a translation of Chapter 26 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) Confucius is criticizing commentators who did not check their facts properly before making dubious claims in historical and contemporary texts with his assertion that young scribes in ancient times would leave a blank space so that more knowledgeable experts would be able to add in the correct information when they reviewed it. By likening these purveyors of disinformation and hyperbole to the owner of a horse who is unable to tame the animal himself but too arrogant to send it to others for taming, he is pointing out that people need to show more humility and acknowledge their weaknesses instead of trying to cover them up.

(2) It is of course highly doubtful that the ancients were humbler and more scrupulous than the sage’s contemporaries. But that is a discussion for another day.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.



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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.