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?”

 

14.1

Xian asked about shameful conduct.

Confucius replied, “When the Way prevails in your state, take office. To take office when the Way does not prevail—that is shameful conduct.”

Xian then asked, “If a person is free of arrogance, self-importance, resentment and desire, can their conduct be called humane?”

Confucius replied, “It’s certainly difficult, but I don’t know if I’d call it humane.”