Leadership Lessons from Confucius: greeting the music master
Mian, the (blind) music master, came to visit. When he reached the steps, Confucius said: “Mind the steps.” When he reached the mat, Confucius said: “Here is the mat.” When everyone was seated, Confucius told him: “So-and-so is seated here. So-and-so is seated there.” After the music master had left, Zizhang asked: “Is this the way to talk to a music master?” Confucius said: “Yes, this is indeed the way to assist a music master.”
Pay close attention to how you greet a guest when they arrive for a visit. Even if it is unintentional, a perfunctory smile or a limp (pre/post-Covid) handshake can suck the energy out of the encounter even before it has started by causing your guest to wonder whether you really want to see them or if they have done something to offend you.
Of course, you should be careful not to go overboard either. Greeting someone you have never met before in the same way as a close friend is sure to get the encounter off to an equally awkward start. Insincerity is just as discomfiting as indifference — perhaps even more so. The last thing you want is having your guest questioning your motives in inviting them.
Greeting guests in the appropriate manner is a highly underrated skill that requires careful preparation and regular practice. As we emerge from Covid confinement, it is one that is well worth brushing up on.
This article features a translation of Chapter 42 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.
(1) Mian was the music master in the court of Lu. The position of court music master was reserved for blind men in ancient China because it was believed that they had sharper hearing than people with sight.
(2) Confucius greets Mian with the greatest respect and anticipates his each and every need in order to make his visit as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. When Zizhang questions whether he has shown too much solicitude to a man of lower social status, Confucius admonishes him that this is how all guests should be treated.
I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.