Confucius said: “Those who are born with innate knowledge are the highest. Next are those who acquire knowledge through learning. After them are those who learn from the trials and tribulations of life. The lowest are the common people who go through the trials and tribulations of life without ever learning anything.”
You are always going to come across people who are more naturally gifted than you are. Do not let that discourage you or lead you to give up. Even if you lack their talent, you can still build up considerable knowledge and expertise through assiduous study and practical experience. The key is to maintain your commitment and determination when the going gets rough. It is only when you encounter the greatest challenges that you will find out what you are really made of.
This article features a translation of Chapter 9 of Book 16 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 16 here.
(1) The phrase “生而知之/shēngérzhīzhī” literally means “born and know it”. It could also be translated as intuitive wisdom/knowledge, naturally gifted/talented, or perhaps even a capacity or proclivity for learning. Indeed, Confucius is arguing that everyone has the ability to learn if they put the necessary work in no matter how great or limited their talent is.
(2) Confucius did not consider that he himself had this natural gift. In 7.19, he candidly admits: “I was not born with innate knowledge. I simply love the past and am assiduous in seeking it there.” The only person he deemed to possess it was his favorite follower Yan Hui. In 5.9, he goes as far as to tell Zigong: “You are certainly not his equal, and neither am I.”
I took this image at Alishan in central Taiwan just before the sunrise.