Confucius said, “If you lead with regulations and keep people in line with punishments, they’ll stay out of trouble, but they’ll have no sense of shame. If you lead by setting a good example, however, and keep people in line with ritual, they will develop their own sense of shame and lead themselves.”


Confucius said, “Clever words, a plastic smile, and superficial gestures of respect. Zuoqiu Ming considered this stuff to be shameful and so do I.

“Hiding your resentment and pretending to be someone’s friend. Zuoqiu Ming considered this to be shameful, too, and so do I.”


Sima Niu asked Confucius about being a noble person.

Confucius replied, “The noble person has no anxiety or fear.”

Sima Niu replied, “No anxiety or fear? That’s all it takes to be a noble person?”

Confucius replied, “If you look within yourself and find nothing to be ashamed of, how could you have any anxiety or fear?”


Zigong asked, “What sort of people are good enough to be considered a good government official?”

Confucius replied, “People who conduct themselves with a sense of shame, and who can be sent abroad on missions without disgracing the mission. Those are the sort of people who can be considered good government officials.”

Zigong then asked, “And who is one step below that?”

Confucius replied, “People whose families consider them filial and whose fellow villagers consider them respectful of elders.”

Zigong asked, “And one step below that?”

Confucius answered, “Someone who keeps their word and always follows through on their actions. They may be stubborn and small-minded, but they qualify as the next step down.”

Zigong asked, “And how about those serving in government today?”

Confucius replied, “Ugh. They’re little tools. They don’t even count.”


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.”