Confucius said: “‘Seeing goodness and pursuing it as if you will never be able to achieve it; seeing badness and recoiling from it as if you have been scalded by boiling water’ — I have seen such people and I have heard such words. ‘Living in seclusion to pursue your aspirations; doing what is right to attain the way’ — I have heard such words, but I have never seen such people.”
Actions are more important than words. Place greater store on what people do than what they say.
This article features a translation of Chapter 11 of Book 16 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 16 here.
(1) It is not clear what point Confucius is trying to make by quoting these two ancient sayings in tandem. With the first one, he is perhaps implying that while he has seen some people who pursue goodness and recoil from badness, there are not enough of them to make a difference in the troubled times he lived in. With the second one, he may be taking a sarcastic crack at proto-Daoist aesthetes who gave up their official posts and retired to the countryside to maintain their moral purity. To him, escaping the everyday world, no matter how depraved and corrupt it may be, was the exact opposite of “doing what is right to attain the way.”
I took this image at Alishan in central Taiwan.