Confucius was a giant. His thoughts and ideas reverberate through the ages and are today as relevant as in his lifetime some 2500 years ago. Here are the ten best Confucius Quotes and their meaning with important keys in life and work.
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Living from 551 BC to 479 BC in China, Confucius’ time falls into the Spring and Autumn period. And these were times brimming with unpredictable political upheaval and instability.
In response to the violent changes in Chinese society back then, Confucius’ philosophy proposes virtuous stability.
Also known as Confucianism, his teachings emphasize kindness and justice, the ego’s transcendence, and personal and governmental morality.
Compiled in a scripture called the Analects, Confucius’ guidance advocates sincerity and correctness of social relationships. For the sake of a stable society, service to the community begins in the family and from there expands to the whole world.
We all need to understand our place in the world during turbulent times and act with morality and accountability.
As such, Confucianism offers a welcome counterbalance to today’s view that humanity’s salvation lies in innovation and growth. While creativity is undoubtedly one of humankind’s greatest gifts, most activities in our daily lives center around maintenance and resilience.
Indeed, we need stability as a platform to launch growth. Or, as the saying goes, if you want to win, don’t lose.
The Best Confucius Quotes with Keys to Life, Work, and Success
On True Knowledge
“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.” – Confucius
Interpretation: We ought to act with a realistic, truthful, and honest understanding of our capabilities in the world. Hybris and wishful thinking lead to disaster. Compare to the Socratic Paradox, ‘I know that I know nothing’ and the Delphic maxim ‘Know Thyself.’ Ultimately, we need to act with humility.
On Good and Bad Things
“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.” – Confucius
Interpretation: A good life requires effort. Success in worthwhile achievements takes persistence and perseverance. While it is easy to give in to our animal nature, guarding our humanity involves positive resolve. All the good things in life have a price to them.
On the Beauty of Reality
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius
Interpretation: Reality is opaque, and what we can see depends on our knowledge and experience. Two people might walk through the same forest. While the first person only sees trees, the second sees all kinds of different trees, the leaves in their vegetative cycle, the multitude of insects, and peculiar patterns in the tree’s bark.
Also, there are always two sides to the same coin. A seemingly disastrous event may carry the seed of opportunity. In fact, all things simply are. And it is the task of our perception to find the positive and useful aspects.
On Reaching Goals
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
Interpretation: When following a worthy goal, we need to carefully appraise and exert effort to reach this goal. The task is to overcome one’s inner laziness and not just accept an inferior outcome. Life is about realizing our sense of agency and honestly strive for what is good.
On Keeping Life Simple
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
Interpretation: Many of us look for the reasons for failure in our environment and create a narrative from that angle. And if this narrative gets entangled with faulty views of ourselves, life can become overly complex. Instead, we ought to emotionally detach and look for the path of least resistance. Indeed, complications only exist in our minds and there is always a way to figure out the next step.
On True Learning
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius
Interpretation: How do we best learn and acquire new skills? To gain mastery of any skill or subject, hearing, reading, or observing is not sufficient. We need to get fully immersed, focus, and practice. Want to learn how to write? Write. Want to learn how to sing? Go on and sing. The practice is the key.
On Information and Wisdom
“He who learns but does not think is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” – Confucius
If we accumulate knowledge without discerning the learned and putting it into context, we gain little. In fact, as the psychologist Barry Schwarts has shown in “The Paradox of Choice‘, more choices and knowledge do not necessarily lead to better decisions. Instead, superfluous information can create anxiety or a feeling of being lost.
In contrast, trying to find a path through life without sufficient knowledge of the world is likely to end in disaster. As a result, we need to retrieve knowledge from information and wisdom from knowledge to make good choices.
“He who conquers himself is the mighiest warrior.” – Confucius
Interpretation: The real battle in life is with oneself. Winning that mind game is the essence of living switched-on. Our mind tricks us through perception biases, fear, judgments, preconceptions, limiting beliefs, and habits. By taming our minds, we can live with discipline and direction.
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On Holding Grudges and Letting Go
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” – Confucius
Interpretation: It is better to live with a light heart and not carry around grudges in life. If somebody inflicts harm on you, seek justice. But if you hate somebody and want revenge, you give that person undue power over your life. So, it is wise to let go and move on.
On Conscious Living
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius
Interpretation: How do we make our life worthwhile and feel a sense of accomplishment? By living deliberately and being consciously affirmative about what we do. Seek always to be accountable and passionate. Then you live in the moment and go about life as an authentic person – way to go.
So there you have it. The ten best Confucius quotes. Which one did you like the most?