The Analects of Confucius is a classic compilation of teachings by the well known Chinese philosopher. It can be downloaded for free if you google it.

Although some parts can be considered outdated to the enlightened modern mind, I enjoyed reading the many timeless principles scattered throughout.

  • There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism.
  • ‘The superior man is satisfied and composed; the mean man is always full of distress.’
  • Fan Ch’ih asked about benevolence. The Master said, `It is to love all men.’ He asked about knowledge. The Master said, `It is to know all men.’
  • The disciples of Tsze-hsia asked Tsze-chang about the principles that should characterize mutual intercourse. Tsze-chang asked, `What does Tsze-hsia say on the subject?’ They replied, `Tsze-hsia says: Associate with those who can advantage you. Put away from you those who cannot do so.”‘ Tsze-chang observed, `This is different from what I have learned. The superior man honours the talented and virtuous, and bears with all. He praises the good, and pities the incompetent. Am I possessed of great talents and virtue? who is there among men whom I will not bear with? Am I devoid of talents and virtue? men will put me away from them. What have we to do with the putting away of others?’
  • `The mean man is sure to gloss his faults.’
  • `When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.’
  • `The superior man is correctly firm, and not firm merely.’
  • `There are three friendships which are advantageous, and three which are injurious. Friendship with the upright; friendship with the sincere; and friendship with the man of much observation: these are advantageous. Friendship with the man of specious airs; friendship with the insinuatingly soft; and friendship with the glib-tongued: these are injurious.’

Definitions: “mean man” is an average person. “master” is an enlightened master of life.

I was reflecting on a structure to help work out who I am and where I want to go in life. I came up with 6 points and answered them for myself.

1) Decide what kind of person you want to be.

I want to be as heroes and angels are in stories – the universally ideal being that is admired and respected across all cultures. I want to have an inner strength and live with a peaceful heart and mind. I want to connect with others meaningfully and be a positive contributor to others.

2) What kind of basic principles do you live by?

  • I will never inflict intentional suffering.
  • I will guard against inflicting unintentional suffering.
  • I will desire happiness in all people and help them in anyway I can to achieve this.
  • I will be truthful and genuine. I will be transparent.
  • I will focus outwardly and empathetically on other people and analyse the effects of my actions on them. Being a good person requires this.

 3) Build a meaning structure based on these principles to define the person you are and where you are going.

  • I will put energy and focus into my relationships because they give meaning to my life.
  • I will seek knowledge and experience to help grow myself because it gives meaning to my life.
  • My words will have meaning and intention and action to back them up because it is meaningful to me for my word to reflect my true self.
  • I understand that I am part of a vast and complex system of people – a society. It is meaningful to me to make a positive contribution to it and I understand that my actions ripple through its fabric in a potentially large way.

 4) Assess what you want to be better at and take actions for improvement.

  • I want to improve my mindfulness. -> meditation, self monitoring to maintain a mindful state.
  • I want to find new and better ways to think about things -> seek out and befriend people you admire, read good books, watch good talks on the internet.
  • I want to be better at telling stories -> be mindful and develop a habit of putting in effort when telling stories and don’t be self conscious that you might be boring because not telling stories is more boring.

 5) You will now know what you like and where you want to go because you have a firm definition of who you are and what drives you.

  • I surround myself with people I admire and love. I prioritise them above everything else and give them my full focus and attention.
  • I seek an occupation where I can help to train others in these skills.
  • I stay away from routine and seek out new, positive experiences.

6) Understand that this is an ongoing process where you will continuously define your self definition.

I take joy from this ongoing process and sharing it with others as they go through their own. I understand that there cannot be an end that this is something I will do for my entire life.

It would be cool if some people wrote their own answers in the comments :)

I highly recommend reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It is available freely to read on the internet as it is out of copyright.

[READ FOR FREE HERE]

It provides great insight into his thoughts on living life.

Experience keeps a dear School, but Fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that; for it is true, we may give Advice, but we cannot give Conduct, as Poor Richard says: However, remember this, They that won’t be counselled, can’t be helped.

Here are a few excerpts:

On Attaining Moral Perfection

It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employ’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.

The Whistle

To Madame Brillon,

Passy, November 10, 1779.

I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion, we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems, that most of the unhappy people we meet with, are become so by neglect of that caution.

You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.

When I was a child of seven year old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.

As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.

When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.

When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.

If I knew a miser who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.

If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.

When I see a beautiful, sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!

In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider, that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle.

Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever yours very sincerely and with unalterable affection,

B. Franklin

 

We seem not to notice how much the people in our lives constantly change. We tend to behave as though things will be this way forever. But things will change. We each have only so much attention to divide between our relationships. People will move away, colleagues will change jobs, children will grow up, friends will have families or come across people they connect better with. And because of this, the level of attention and importance we give each other will change as well.

Think in your life who was the most important to you 1 year ago? 2 years? 5 years? etc. Who were the top 5 people you gave the most attention to? How have they changed? Why have they changed?

Even our closest friends and family relationships change in strength and importance. Some to the point of extinguishment. Others unshakably close.

I guess the point is that this is a part of life we have to accept. We need to enjoy every moment to the fullest with the people who are currently important to us. Things will probably change soon but at least we made the most of it.

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