13.15

Duke Ding asked if there’s a single phrase which could bring a state to prosperity.

Confucius replied, “No words can have that kind of effect. There is a saying that comes close, though: ‘Being a ruler is hard, and being a minister isn’t easy.’

“If this saying made a ruler realize the difficulty of the job, wouldn’t it come close to being a single phrase that could bring a state to prosperity?”

Duke Ding then asked, “Is there a single phrase which could ruin a state?”

Confucius replied, “No words can have that kind of effect. There is a saying that comes close, though: ‘There is only one joy in being a ruler: no one contradicts me.’

“If you’re right and no one contradicts you, that’s fine. But if you’re wrong and no one contradicts you—well, wouldn’t it come close to being a single phrase that could ruin a state?”