Confucius Worries Too

What makes you worried? Perhaps your work? Or money? Or certain people in your life? I used to think that life would be good if I just didn't have any worries. But then I learned that even my idol Confucius has worries!

In Book 7 of The Analects of Confucius, Confucius said,

"Not cultivating virtues, not striving to learn, not emulating others' goodness, and not correcting bad behavior, these are my worries."

(Original Text: 德之不脩,學之不講,聞義不能徙,不善不能改,是吾憂也。)


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Despite having these worries, Confucius was exceptionally and abnormally happy. Book 7 of The Analects also describes a time when the Duke of She asked Zi Lu to describe Confucius. Zi Lu didn't respond. When Confucius found out, he told Zi Lu,

"Why didn't you tell him, 'As a person, he is so eager in his pursuit of knowledge that he forgets to eat, so joyous in his attainments that he forgets all worries, and he doesn’t even realize that he is getting old.'"

(Original Text: 女奚不曰,其為人也,發憤忘食,樂以忘憂,不知老之將至云爾。)


When I heard this, I thought, "Wow, I am a person too, and I pursue knowledge too. But I've never forgotten my hunger just because I was studying. And I still have lots of worries. I'm not that old yet, but I am aware of my age." Suffice to say, I am nowhere near as happy as Confucius was!

So I asked myself, "Why? What's the difference between Confucius and I?"


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Then I realized, we worry about different things! I spend my energy worrying about what others think of me, my future, or even the weather. These are all outside of my control. Confucius is focused on constantly improving himself using whatever circumstances life throws at him. His focus is positive and within his control.

It's All About Cultivating Virtues

I also noticed that if I had to summarize his worries into just one, it would be cultivating virtues. Virtues are positive human qualities like love, respect, wisdom, humility, courage, etc. If you observe any great person, they have great virtues. Since I've started studying philosophy, I've noticed that all philosophies emphasize virtues.



I also found a list of 52 virtues from The Virtues Project that is worth studying:

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Confucius's other three worries are all different ways to cultivate virtues. Striving to learn involves the virtues of studiousness and diligence. Emulating others' goodness involves studiousness and humility. Correcting one's faults is humility and perseverance.


From Worry to Steady

Like most people, I worry about my future, what others think of me, other people's situations, and random things like the weather. I can turn Confucius's four focuses into questions for myself to overcome worries:

  1. What virtues should I cultivate to handle this worry?

  2. What do I need to learn to handle this worry?

  3. Who can I emulate here?

  4. What bad behavior do I need to correct (or guard against) here?


Example 1: My Future

I am worried about my future career. I am currently a high school business teacher, but I am very interested in pursuing a niche field called sinology. Even within this niche field, I don’t know if I should be a sinology teacher or a translator of ancient Chinese texts or both.


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Let's go through the four questions.

1: What virtues do I need to cultivate here? I need to cultivate the virtue of duty, which means I ought to do whatever responsibility is in front of me to the best of my ability. Right now, I am a high school business teacher, so I will do that properly and use excess free time to explore my interest in sinology. I also need to cultivate the virtue of patience because haste leads to mistakes, and change needs time.

2: What do I need to learn to handle this worry? I need to learn more about future opportunities in teaching and sinology. I can ask to talk with experienced teachers like my principal and experienced sinologists like my friend's teacher.

3: Who can I emulate in this situation? I know of a person who used to be a primary school teacher, then he went on to become a sinology teacher. I can emulate him.

4: What bad behavior do I need to correct here? I need to not be hasty and selfish when thinking about my future career. If I want to change from teaching business to sinology, I need to take it at a slow and natural pace. I also should choose the career that has the most positive impact for the world and that most needs my abilities.


You may not be contemplating a career change like me, but perhaps you are looking for a promotion, or trying to pass an exam, or looking for a relationship. The same four questions can be used.


Example 2: Other People's Situations

I have been tutoring a friend in English over the past few months, and I am worried about whether or not she will pass her upcoming IELTS test.


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Let's go through the four questions again.

1: What virtues do I need to cultivate here? I need to cultivate the virtues of tranquility and duty. If I worry, then that will make her worry; if I am calm and tranquil, then I can help her feel calm and tranquil. Duty means doing my utmost to help. I am not responsible for her results because that's outside my control. As long as I tried my best to help, I won't have any regrets.

2: What do I need to learn to handle this worry? I can learn more about the IELTS test that she has to take, which will help me be a better tutor.

3: Who can I emulate in this situation? I know someone else who is also tutoring students in IELTS, so I can learn from him.

4: What bad behavior do I need to correct in this situation? I need to not be demanding. Helping my friend is supposed to be a happy thing. If I become demanding for her to get a certain score, then she will have stress, which will reduce her performance and create disharmony. Instead, I should be encouraging.

You probably also have someone that you are worried about too. Perhaps it’s your children, parents, partner, employees, or friends. Regardless, these four questions can help you find a solution.


Conclusion

After reflecting on these questions, my worries were reduced greatly, and I had much more mental clarity and calm in terms of what I should do now.


What is something you are worried about right now? Ask yourself,

  1. What virtues should I cultivate to handle this worry?

  2. What do I need to learn to handle this worry?

  3. Who can I emulate here?

  4. What bad behavior do I need to correct here?


 

Weekly Wisdom Newsletter #191

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