Confucius said, “The noble person acts in harmony with others, but doesn’t try to conform to them. The small person tries to conform to others but doesn’t act in harmony with them.”
The Jisun family was about to attack Zhuanyu, so Ran Qiu and Zilu went to see Confucius, saying, “The Jisun family is getting ready to move against Zhuanyu.”
Confucius said, “Ran Qiu, isn’t this your fault? Since ancient times the former kings have maintained Zhuanyu as the site of the sacrifice at Dong Meng mountain. Also, it’s located within our own state, and is subject to our national altars to the soil and grain. Why attack it?”
Ran Qiu replied, “It’s our lord who wants to do this, not the two of us as ministers.”
Confucius said, “Ran Qiu, the historian Zhou Ren said, ‘The one who displays his power is the one who gets the position; those who are not capable give up.’
“What sort of an assistant can’t steady his master when he totters or hold him up when he falls?
“Also, what you are saying is wrong. Who’s to blame when a tiger or a rhino escapes from its cage, or when a tortoise shell or jade is smashed in its case?”
Ran Qiu said, “But Zhuanyu is well-fortified and is located right next to the Ji family stronghold. If they don’t take it now, it will be a menace to their descendants.”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu! A noble person despises those who make excuses instead of just coming right out and saying what they want!
“I’ve heard it said that the heads of states or hereditary families don’t worry about poverty, but worry about inequality of distribution. They don’t worry about having too few people, but worry about unrest. When there’s fairness in distribution of wealth, there won’t be poverty. When there’s harmony in society, there won’t be a lack of people. When people are content, there’s no threat of unrest.
“So if people at a distance aren’t open to your rule, improve your ways and cultivate virtue to attract them. Once you’ve attracted them, see to it that they enjoy peace.
“But now, with the two of you as ministers, your lord can’t attract people from a distance, his land is falling apart, and he can’t hold onto it—and now he wants to wage war on one of his own provinces!
“For Lord Jisun, the real danger isn’t coming from Zhuanyu, but lies within his own walls.”