Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when serving your parents
Confucius said: “When serving your parents, you may gently remonstrate with them. If you see that they’re not following your advice, remain respectful and do not contradict them. Don’t let your efforts turn to bitterness.”
How to react when your boss refuses to listen to your counsel? Do you continue to fight your corner or do you gracefully withdraw from the fray by agreeing to disagree with him? Perhaps even more importantly, do you accept his refusal to bow to your wisdom with grace or do you let his obvious stupidity and blindness consume you with anger and resentment?
You are never going to win every argument. You are even going to lose ones in which the facts and rightness are on your side. You just have to learn to keep such disappointments in perspective and make sure that you don’t let your emotions override your reasoning. Railing against the injustices you’ve been subjected to will only serve to make a tough situation worse rather than better.
This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.
(1) Filial devotion is probably the best known but least well understood of all the values promoted by Confucius in the Analects. Thanks to thousands of years of propaganda by successive generations of rulers eager to assert strict control over their restless subjects, not to mention countless hapless parents attempting to keep their unruly children in line, it has become almost synonymous with blind obedience to your elders and superiors. But, as his comments in 4.18 show, Confucius had a much more nuanced vision of the relationship between parents and their offspring: one in which as the son reached maturity, he had the right and indeed responsibility to “remonstrate” with them if he felt that they were going off the right track. Confucius’s only proviso was that the son should do this sensitively and not get upset if his parents didn’t listen to him. The deeper you dig into the Analects, the greater the differences you find between what Confucius actually said and (to borrow the famous phrase about Steve Jobs) the “reality distortion fields” that have grown up around some of his most important teachings. Filial devotion is one good example; education and learning are of the same ilk.
I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.