Leadership Lessons from Confucius: on idle chatter

Confucius said: “I can’t stand people who can spend a whole day together indulging in idle chatter without ever reaching a deeper truth.”
子曰:「群居終日,言不及義,好行小慧,難矣哉!」

What kind of people do you spend your time with? Do you look forward to hearing them share their sparkling wit and insightful observations that fire up your inspiration and enthusiasm? Or do you groan inwardly at the prospect of them sucking up your energy and time with their idle chatter and constant complaints about how the whole world is against them?

Perhaps it is time to stop seeing those who drain all the joy from your life and seek out new friends who can add something different to it. You do not have to make a drama out of the parting. Just stop frequenting the same old familiar haunts and make a conscious effort to try out some new places and activities.

It probably will not be too easy to get out of your comfort zone at first. But once you put yourself out there, you will probably enjoy the change of scenery. Upon reflection, you may also find that you allowed yourself to get too much into a rut and kick yourself for not seeking out fresh pastures before.

Notes
This article features a translation of Chapter 17 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) This is another example of Confucius’s criticism of glib people who loved to show off their cleverness in trivial matters without bothering to discuss anything meaningful. His opinion of the chatterati is neatly summed up in Analects 1.3: “Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.”

(2) The meaning of the phrase 及義 (jíyì) is ambiguous. Some commentators translate it more literally as “touching on rightness” or “touching on the subject of morality”.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.

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